Friday, December 16, 2011

A Gift for the Holidays: A Family Stays Together!

PFLAG National Executive Director Jody Huckaby blogged on the Huffington Post about a letter we received from Lenora Brandoli.  You may remember that Lenora wrote a heartfelt plea on behalf of her son on law, who was in jeopardy of being deported.

Well there's good news! On Wednesday, Michael Thomas and John Brandoli received life-changing news. After a year and a half fighting to remain together despite threats of deportation against Michael – and living with the constant fear of their family being torn apart – John and Michael received news that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) had agreed to join in a motion to stop Michael’s removal from the United States.

What better way to spend the holidays then with your loved ones...Michael and John, we're so happy for you. And Lenora, we know you'll be having a happy, happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Georgia Transgender Woman Wins Appeal Based on Discriminatory Gender-Stereotyping

On Tuesday the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals voted to uphold a court ruling stating that Vandy Beth Glenn was illegally fired from her position as a legislative editor in the Georgia General Assembly after informing her employer that she would be transitioning from male to female. Glenn sued the state on the grounds of sex-based discrimination in 2007, and won her case in 2010. The ruling was appealed to the 11th Circuit Court which heard the case last Thursday.

After only a few short days, the three-judge panel on Tuesday unanimously upheld the 2010 ruling which stated Glenn was wrongfully fired. The panel concluded that the Equal Protection Clause was violated, stating that Glenn was discriminated against on the basis of gender stereotyping: “The question here is whether discriminating against someone on the basis of his or her gender non-conformity constitutes sex-based discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause…We hold that it does.”

The decision is a powerful one which may allow for more sex-based discrimination cases in the future. As the panel stated in their written statement:
An individual cannot be punished because of his or her perceived gender non-conformity. Because these protects are afforded to everyone, they cannot be denied to a transgender individual. The nature of the discrimination is the same; it may differ in degree but not in kind, and the discrimination on the basis is a form of sex-based discrimination that is subject to heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.
The panel included a diverse group of judges: Senior Judge Phyliss Kravitch was the first woman appointed to a federal bench in the Southeast, Judge William H. Pryor has been known for his notoriously anti-LGBT court decisions, and Judge Rosemary Barkett, dubbed the “activist judge,” was the first female, first Hispanic, and first Arab-American judge within the Florida Supreme Court. These unique backgrounds make the unanimous decision especially note-worthy.

Though the state could still appeal Tuesday’s decision to the full 11th Circuit Court of the Supreme Court, Glenn feels “giddy” about the 3-0 vote in her favor and believes the “end of the tunnel is in sight.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Two Major Prop 8 Motions to Be Heard Thursday

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear two motions pertaining to Proposition 8 this Thursday, December 8 at 2:30 pm (PST) in San Francisco, California. The hearing is expected to take two hours and will be broadcast on a delay in Pasadena, CA, Portland, OR, and Seattle, WA. The trial can also be followed via live twitter updates from the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

Hour One: Motion to release the Prop 8 trial video.

The first motion seeks to release Prop 8 trial tapes to the public. Ted Olson and David Boies of the American Foundation for Equal Rights will be arguing on the behalf of the motion, stating that the “public has a First Amendment right to see video footage of the historic Prop 8 trial.” Opposition to this motion fears that witnesses will be targeted for harassment because of their testimony if the tapes are released. AFER argues that supporters of Prop 8 oppose this motion because they “don’t want anyone to know that they failed in court.”

If this motion passes, the public and a selected media coalition will be allowed access to the Prop 8 trial video tapes. If not, the tapes will remain within the court. The losing side is likely to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hour Two: Motion to throw out the case due to the judge’s undisclosed sexual orientation.

The second motion seeks to throw out the case because Judge Vaughn Walker did not disclose his sexual orientation at the beginning of the trial. Since Judge Walker is a gay man in a long-term relationship with another man, marriage ban supporters assert that he was unfit to issue a ruling on the Prop 8 trial and should have recused himself due to personal bias. However, AFER remains positive about the motion’s future ruling: “We are confident that the appeals court will affirm that being gay has no bearing on a judge’s impartiality, just as the courts have historically done with cases involving race, gender, and religion.”

If the three judges involved in this hearing rule in favor of this motion, the famous ruling which gave lesbian, gay, and bisexual couples marriage equality in California will be thrown out completely, and the marriage ban would stand. A ruling in favor of dismissing the case would also set an astonishing precedent, implying that a LGB judge should not preside over trials involving LGB rights. The decision could set the stage for similar motions for dismissal based on the sexual orientation or relationship status of a judge. Again, the losing side is allowed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Future of Proposition 8

AFER anticipates a ruling before the end of the year or shortly after. The decisions made in this seemly short two hour hearing could possibly send the Prop 8 case to the U.S. Supreme Court, making California the first state to bring a proposed marriage ban to the federal appeals level.

Take Action: The fate of Proposition 8 is now in the hands of the court system. However, you can raise your voice in support of the federal bill called the Respect for Marriage Act (H.R. 1116/ S.598) which seeks to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. Contact your members of congress today and encourage them to co-sponsor the bill—every person, regardless of their sexual orientation, deserves the right to express their life-long commitment to the one they love.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Howard County Council Passes Gender Identity Protection Ordinance

Last evening Howard County, MD passed legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in the areas of housing, law enforcement, public accommodations, financing, employment, and health and social services. The bill was initiated by Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG) and Gender Rights Maryland (GRMD), an organization dedicated to enacting similar statewide protections.

"This is a very happy day here in Howard County” said Heath Goisovich, Co-Chair of the Advocacy Committee of PFLAG Columbia-Howard County. “Our County Council has shown that Howard County is willing to lead in the state on civil rights issues. We have put a lot of work in on this and we are really pleased with the outcome.”

“Now, after much hard work, we have expanded protections in Howard and done so with a broad coalition of support. As a resident of Howard County I could not be prouder of my Council for taking this issue on. This event will yield great momentum in expanding these same rights throughout the state in 2012,” said Sharon Brackett, Board Chair for Gender Rights Maryland.

”Howard County will now join Montgomery County and Baltimore City as the third jurisdiction in Maryland supporting these rights. This is a clear sign of exciting and changing times in Maryland for advocates of civil rights,” added Brackett.

The bill will now be forwarded to County Executive Ken Ullman who is expected to sign it. The measure will take effect 61 days following the signing.

Monday, December 5, 2011

PFLAG Founder Jeanne Manford Celebrates Her 91st Birthday!

In 1972 America was a different place...

Being gay was a crime, over half of the U.S. population deemed homosexuality morally wrong, vicious attacks on gay people were commonplace, and the idea of equality for gays and lesbians was a radical notion. But this didn’t stop Bronx, New York schoolteacher Jeanne Manford from ensuring that her gay son, Morty, received the same treatment as her straight daughter, Suzanne. 

Following a brutal attack on his life at a rally, Manford stood alongside her son in a protest through the streets of Manhattan, carrying a sign that read “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children.” Begged by observers to speak to other parents, she started support groups teaching parents to accept and support their LGBT loved ones and become, like her, brave advocates for equality. As demand steadily increased, Manford founded PFLAG, a national organization with a mission of support, education, and advocacy. 

Today, PFLAG chapters can be found in all fifty states, in communities big and small, with over 350 chapters serving thousands of people with volunteer support, education outreach, and a call to advocate at local,state and federal levels for equality for their LGBT loved ones. Manford’s simple act of love and courage for her son has given voice to a population and their families, empowering them to come out and speak out for family values for all families.

In America’s civil rights history, Manford is the mother of the straight ally movement, creating a space for straight people to unite with LGBT people and take a public stand for LGBT equality.  

According to Suzanne, Jeanne at 91 years young has her good days and bad days. Your stories of family acceptance, shared through the unique perspective of PFLAG members and supporters, are always a bright spot.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

As World AIDS Day Rallies Support, Discrimination Persists in Pennsylvania Boarding School

This Thursday, countries across the globe acknowledged World AIDS Day, seeking to educate people about what the disease is, how it affects the lives of thousands, and what can be done to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, while the world re-dedicated to helping those affected by the virus,one American family challenged the legality of Milton Hershey School’s blatant discrimination against their HIV-positive child. The school has denied the young boy’s application for admittance due to his physical status as HIV-positive.

The Milton Hershey School is a cost-free boarding school which requires students to come from a low-income family, be between four and fifteen years old, be an American citizen, and be free of major emotional or behavioral problems. This student, who remains anonymous, meets every criterion. “He just also happens to have HIV which the school has determined is a ‘documented need’ it cannot meet,” said the AIDS Law Project Executive Director Ronda B. Goldfein, who is leading the student’s legal case.

Connie McNamara, a spokesman for the school, detailed the thoughts behind their decision: “The reason is simple. We are serving children, and no child can be assumed to always make responsible decisions that protect the wellbeing of others…We have to provide the proper protection for the health and safety of the students already on campus, and we believe we have made the right decision under the law.”

Goldfein plans to cite the Ryan White Care Act of 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other anti-discrimination laws the school has allegedly broken in order to defend the student’s right to admittance. The act is named after Ryan White, a middle school student in the 1990s who was expelled from school because he was HIV-positive. The Ryan White Care Act was recently reauthorized by President Obama to end the ban prohibiting HIV-positive people from entering America; the law also provides funding for HIV medical clinics through the Ryan White Program. In honor of World AIDS Day President Obama announcedthat his administration is “committing an additional $15 million for the Ryan White Program…we want to keep those doors open so they can keep saving lives.” See a video of his speech here.

The school’s fear of this student spreading the virus is largely unsupported by the Center for Disease Control which states that the main avenues for transmission are sexual activity and sharing needles—“HIV is not transmitted by day-to-day contact in the workplace, schools, or social settings…HIV is not an airborne or food-borne virus, and it does not live long outside the body.” It is also not possible to become infected from “a toilet seat, a drinking fountain, a door knob, dishes, drinking glasses, food, or pets.”

“Like Ryan White, this young man is a motivated, intelligent kid who poses no health risk to other students, but is being denied an educational opportunity because of ignorance and fear about his HIV and AIDS,” Goldfein said. Despite these scientific facts and existing federal non-discrimination legislation, the school has no intention of reversing their decision.

Take Action: Visit change.org and sign the petitioned titled “Milton Hershey School: Stop Discriminating Against an HIV-Positive 13-Year-Old.” As of 3:33 PM (EST) the petition already has 2,097 supporters! Add your voice and stand up for the rights our children. No child should be discriminated against and denied schooling because of their health status.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Straight for Equality Leaders to host Free Webinar!

In collaboration with Linkage, founders of the Summit on Leading Diversity, PFLAG’s Straight for Equality will be presenting a FREE WEBINAR on December 8, 2011 at 2:00 pm EST. Join members of PFLAG National’s Equality & Diversity Partnerships team, Jean-Marie Navetta and Robby Gregg, to learn more about workplace diversity, the power of straight allies, and more!

Participants will learn how to:
  • Employ effective ways to increase inclusion for LGBT people
  • Approach LGBT inclusion through inviting, educating, and engaging straight allies at work
  • Guide potential straight allies in their own “coming out” process on the way to being supportive of LGBT colleagues
  • Help straight allies resolve their own conflicts around this topic and in finding workplace-appropriate ways to express support
  • Align this effort with your larger diversity and inclusion efforts
To register for this FREE WEBINAR, click here>>

As many of you already know, Straight for Equality is a national outreach and education project created in 2007 by Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National to empower allies who don’t necessarily have a personal connection to the gay community. Our work with parents and families over the past 40 years has helped us learn that there is a ‘coming out’ process for straight allies that can and should not be ignored.

Since the launch of our Straight for Equality in the Workplace training program we have had the opportunity to train nearly 5,000 people and work with more than 50 companies nationwide.  More than 12,000 people have signed the Straight for Equality Pledge. And we’re here to be sure that all straight allies have the opportunity to share their strong and powerful voice in support of equality. You can learn more about some of the training programs offered by PFLAG National and Straight for Equality here.

The personal stories of how and why we came to support equality for GLBT people are a significant advantage that straight allies possess. We would love to help you learn how to share that story. Please join us on December 8th!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day: Leading With Science, Uniting With Action

People around the world are raising awareness about the HIV/AIDS global epidemic which has killed over 575,000 citizens in three decades and infects more than 56,000 people in America each year. The infection has claimed over 30 million lives globally since the virus was first reported in 1981.

The United Nations AIDS agency released their annual report on the virus’ progress and found that the global epidemic has hit a plateau—2.7 million people have been infected each year for the past five years. According to the report, in Eastern Europe and Central Asia the total number of people living with HIV has risen 250% from 2001 to 2010.

The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day is “”Leading with Science, Uniting with Action,” which serves to highlight the successes in HIV/AIDS prevention over the last year. The phrase also re-establishes a commitment to working together with other countries in order to combat this viral threat. In 2010, Secretary Hillary Clinton and the Obama Administration issued the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) for the United States which establishes an admirable and inclusive goal:

“The United States will become a place where new HIV infections are rare, and when they do occur, every person, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic circumstance, will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free of stigma and discrimination.”

Today, President Obama spoke at George Washington University during their World AIDS Day event, announcing the allotment of $50 million in existing federal funds to fight HIV/AIDS and established a new goal, aiming to treat 6 million infected people with medication by the end of 2013. “The fight isn’t over,” President Obama said. “Not for the 1.2 million Americans who are living with HIV right now. Not for the Americans who are infected every day. This fight isn’t over for them. It isn’t over for their families. It isn’t over for anyone in this room. And it certainly isn’t over for your President.”

Take Action: For more information on what you can do to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, visit the World AIDS Day federal website. You can also find the U.N.AIDS annual report here, and watch a moving documentary called 30 Years From Here which details the evolution of this global epidemic.