Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Policy Matters 7/11/2012

Front Page Headlines

U.S. Ban on Gay Blood Donors Examined: A ban instated in the 1980s which prohibits gay men from donating blood is being re-examined by the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is a matter of life and death and we are turning away over 50,000 healthy men who want to donate blood,” reported Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), who led a coalition of 64 legislators to encourage HHS to consider ending the ban. HHS promised to conduct studies to determine if the gay male population poses a threat, if any at all, to the nation’s blood supply. [CNN].

Marriage Equality Debate in Minnesota Gaining Attention: On November 6, Minnesota voters will decide whether they want the state Constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Though the definition is already in state law, it will become much more difficult to overturn if the definition is included as a constitutional amendment. While the debate has not been at the forefront of most Minnesotans’ attention, the issue is rising as both sides have raised millions of dollars and plan to spend much of it on TV commercials advocating for their respective causes. [Inforum].

U.S. Supreme Court Faced with Marriage Equality Appeal: The Republican-led Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group filed a petition to the Supreme Court on June 29th, asking it to say that a law defining marriage as a union between a man and a women is consistent with the fifth amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which calls for equal protection under the law. The petition is the first on gay marriage to come before the high court. The nine justices are currently on vacation and will reconvene in late September, and could decide any point thereafter whether they want to take up the case. [Agence France-Press].

House Democrats File Brief Against Defense of Marriage Act: On July 10th, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and at least 130 congressional members filed an amicus brief opposing DOMA. “The filing is in Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, a case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Justice Department wants fast-tracked to the U.S. Supreme Court.” Oral arguments are set for September 10th. As the Justice Department has refused to defend DOMA, House Republicans have hired attorneys to defend the law. [Wisconsin Gazette].

Congressman Frank Continues to Break Barriers for LGBT People: U.S. Representative Barney Frank (MA-D) married his longtime partner, James Ready, on July 7th, becoming the first sitting Congressperson to enter into a same-sex marriage. Frank and Ready, who have been involved since 2007, join more than 18,000 other same-sex couples who have been married in Massachusetts since 2004. Frank, a former Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, was an architect of the reforms in the Dodd-Frank Act following the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market. He was first elected to Congress in 1980 and plans to retire at the end of the current term. [MSNBC].

Celebrities Coming Out: Last week, talk-show host and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper came out in an email to his friend and fellow news anchor, Andrew Sullivan, who is also gay. Hip-hop artist Frank Ocean also revealed his bisexual orientation last week in a Tumblr blog post. The current trend of celebrities “casually” coming out is said to demonstrate shifting views towards acceptance of LGBT equality. [Agence France-Presse].

Technology Becoming More LGBT-Friendly: Last week Facebook updated its marriage icons to include men marrying men and women marrying women. The social networking site has developed a taskforce with LGBT groups, including PFLAG National, to address issues sensitive to them. Apple recently updated its system to include text-message “emojis” of same-sex couples, and last summer Google displayed a rainbow feature to its search engine. These and other online sites are becoming more inclusive of the LGBT community. [CNN].

Policy Watch

New Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Law Protects Gender Identity: The Massachusetts Transgender Equal Rights Act, which bars discrimination in employment, housing, education, and lending, came into effect July 1st. This law makes Massachusetts the 16th state to enact a law protecting the rights of transgender residents. [The Boston Globe].

La Raza Expects Marriage Equality Discussion: The National Board of La Raza, the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S., unanimously endorsed marriage equality last month. Ron Estrada, vice president of marketing for the National Council of La Raza, said that LGBT equality has been “positively received” among La Raza members, but that he expects more discussion on marriage equality and other issues that affect the LGBT community. [National Public Radio].

Denver Changes Policy Regarding Transgender Inmates: The Denver Sheriff’s Department recently implemented a new policy that would subject the placement of transgender inmates within Denver jails to the decision of a review board to determine the most appropriate gender segregated housing facility meeting the best interests of the inmate’s safety and security. Prior to this change, the most likely housing for transgender inmates was solitary confinement, lock down for 23 hours a day. Denver is one of only a few cities to enact such a policy. [KUSA].

Presbyterian Church Rejects Redefinition of Marriage: The Presbyterian General Assembly voted 338-308 on July 6th to reject redefining marriage in the church constitution from “a civil contract between a woman and a man” to a “covenant between two people.” Other mainline Protestant churches have approved gay ordination or have permitted individual congregations to celebrate same-sex unions in recent years. [Associated Press].

Episcopal Church Makes Strides for LGBT Equality: On July 9th, the Episcopal General convention authorized a provisional rite for same-sex unions and approved anti-discrimination language for transgender ordination. The House of Bishops voted 111-41 with three abstentions in favor of the amendments. The New York-based Episcopal Church, which has 1.96 million members, consecrated Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican world, in 2003. [Washington Post].

NY Court Rejects Arguments Against Marriage Equality Law: The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester, New York ruled unanimously on Friday that the State Senate did not violate New York’s Open Meeting Law last year as it considered whether to legalize same-sex marriage. The court refused to nullify the marriages performed under the law. The lawsuit was brought by the conservative group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. [New York Times].

Question from the Field:

Dear Policy Matters,

It is refreshing to see news in the last few weeks that reports the growing public support of LGBT equality and policies that reflect this shift in public opinion. As a resident of Jacksonville, Florida, however, I have been a bit frustrated by my community’s hesitation towards equality. I feel very fortunate that my employer has anti-discrimination policies in place so that I may be completely comfortable at work without fear of being fired because of who I am. However, I have a friend who is fearful of her coworkers finding out that she is a lesbian because her workplace lacks an affirmative non-discrimination policy protecting an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity. She hears anti-LGBT jokes at work and feels extremely uncomfortable and unsafe. Do you have any suggestions to help make all businesses and work environments safer and more supportive atmospheres for all employees?

Thank you,

Dear Robert,

Thanks for writing to Policy Matters! We are glad to hear that your employer has an LGBT inclusive non-discrimination policy ensuring that all employees are valued and respected! It is very troubling that not all work places, including your friend’s, offers such protections that help foster more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Despite the absences of such protections at certain workplaces in Jacksonville, there are several ways you can help make your own work environment and that of your friend more welcoming for all.

Within the next week, the Jacksonville City Council will vote on Human Rights Ordinance 296, a provision that would update an existing Jacksonville anti-discrimination policy to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, public accommodations and credits. There has been much debate surrounding the bill and it has been stalled and altered several times. It is imperative that you express your support for the ordinance by clicking here and telling your council member that you are against LGBT workplace discrimination and expect them to support equality for all residents living in Jacksonville.

In addition to Human Rights Ordinance 296, the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would prohibit employment discrimination against LGBT people across the nation. ENDA has been introduced in every Congress since 1994 but has not yet been passed. Please read more about ENDA and click here to contact your Members of Congress to let them know why a federal anti-discrimination policy is critical.

While policies, at the local, state, and national levels, are very important, there are other ways to create a more welcoming work place where human diversity is celebrated and equality is ensured. You, your friend, and others in your community can request equality training where your coworkers and friends learn about the importance of LGBT equality and mutual respect. Such training can add to existing policies, or work to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace in the absence of such laws.

For example, Straight for Equality, a national outreach and education project of PFLAG National, is offered to workplaces to empower allies in supporting and advocating for LGBT employees. In addition to this training, there are supplemental Straight for Equality resources that invite allies to speak up and participate in supporting equality for all. Hosting a Straight for Equality training in your workplace would help open up dialogue about how everyone in the workplace can help foster a more supportive environment for LGBT employees.

Through supporting each other, educating our community, and advocating for progressive laws and policies, we can work together to create an environment that fosters full equality for all in the workplace. We would love for you to take advantage of these resources and share them with your friend. We look forward to progress in your community of Jacksonville and throughout the nation!

If you have not already done so, find a PFLAG chapter near you for further support and resources.

Thanks for the great question!

Policy Matters

P.S. – Click here to join our PFLAG action e-list to stay informed of when your involvement can make a huge difference!

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