Friday, January 27, 2012

Maryland Gov. O’Malley Adds Marriage Equality to Legislative Package


This week Gov. Martin O’Malley introduced a marriage equality bill as a part of his legislative package for the year. At his press conference Gov. O’Malley’s announced, “We are going to be successful in this legislative session by recognizing the dignity in one another, by recognizing the common humanity we all share.” The bill is scheduled to be debated on January 31st during the Senate Judicial Proceedings hearing and will not last more than four hours.

The new bill contains clearly defined religious protections which have been expanded since the state’s former marriage equality bill was debated in 2011. The new language states that each religious entity “has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine, policy teachings, and beliefs regarding who may marry within that faith.” Openly gay Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) said the language was expanded to “include provisions from other states that have passed marriage equality with religious exemptions, just to take away any ambiguity…it’s just a more wordy way of providing for religious exemption.”

Gov. O’Malley has also pledged his support for the states’ transgender protections bill. If approved, the bill would ban discrimination against gender identity in housing, credit, and employment. “I support it wholeheartedly,” the Governor said. However, this bill will not be a part of his legislative package. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

In His Absence


Our Guest Blogger today is Kathy Gillern, whose son Aeryn disappeared in Vienna, Austria in 2007. Aeryn has yet to be found. Kathy has been met with extreme homophobic hostility and resistance within the Vienna police because of Aeryn’s sexual orientation. She has been fighting for justice ever since:  

When I speak of my son, Aeryn M. J. Gillern, I find myself interweaving the past and present tense, but never the future.  I do this because my son disappeared in Vienna, Austria on October 29, 2007.  
My son was 34 years old when I last saw him, September 19, 2007. On October 31, 2007, I received a call from UNIDO in Vienna, Austria, where my son worked; they told me my son was missing.

Aeryn is the older of my two sons.  He attended high school in the small upstate village of Groton, NY.  When everyone wore flannels and jeans, Aeryn wore button down shirts and pressed pants.  While his friends listened to rock, Aeryn listened to the Carpenters and classical music.  He graduated from Franciscan University Steubenville in 1997, and completed a Master's in 1999. He went on to obtain two additional Master's Degrees, while living in Vienna, at Webster/American University. 
Aeryn found solace in religion, and attended Mass regularly.  He loved singing in the choir.  He regularly ran, biked, rollerbladed, and worked out. He enjoyed cooking and baking for friends. He had a great sense of humor and loved British comedies. He wrote poems.  As I write about him, I picture his eyelashes curled above his green eyes, the way he would wrinkle his nose, and scrunch up his face when he was thinking.  I can hear his deep voice and silly laugh.  I called him my Eurobrat. 

My son was also openly gay.  Aeryn did not define his life by his sexuality and was a man with many skills and passions.  His grand, unique personality could not be condensed into a single characteristic. And yet, over the past four years, attempts have been made to reduce my son to one, small, word.

On my web site for my son—www.aeryngillern.com—I detail my interactions with the Vienna Police and US Embassy which began November 2, 2007. 

I thought that being a retired police officer would help me deal with the police in Vienna. I was wrong. After my first encounter with them I realized they were not interested in helping me find my son. Their aim was to discredit my son.  They constantly referred to his sexuality with mocking, denigrating remarks that were shocking, sadistic, and sexually explicit. The officers’ physical gestures, which accompanied the remarks, needed no translation.  These were not isolated incidences perpetrated by one officer.

This treatment continued through several meetings with multiple officers. Their insensitivity, rudeness, and lack of empathy, could not be tossed away as cultural misunderstanding.  Through the officers’ lies, inconsistencies, deception, and undisguised disgust towards my son, they attempted to reduce my son to a caricature.  In his absence, they treated my son as someone less than deserving of their time, interest, and respect. My son’s accomplishments, interests, and humanity were suddenly irrelevant; my son was gay, and to them that was, and remains, the end of the story. 

My son has never been found.  Initially the Vienna Police had told us that an elaborate search was conducted. Supposedly this search involved canine units, a boat, divers, dredging a canal, all within a 30 minute window of time.  After a later inquiry into police actions, a new story was released on February 2009. Remarkably, everything which had been previously disclosed to me and the UNIDO witnesses had changed. The official story now is that there was no search.  The Fire Department responded, but did not enter and clear the water. 

Since February 2009, the Police have refused to meet with me. I have requested and been denied the Case File. They refuse to hand my son's case to their newly formed Cold Case Squad. I am told that Aeryn’s case remains open, although others who inquire have been told it is closed.

On December 6, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a historic speech to the UN regarding LGBT rights worldwide.  On that same day President Obama issued a Memorandum to all Heads of Departments and Agencies: "By this memorandum I am directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons."

Does this include US Citizens abroad that are LGBT?

I am asking that my New York State Senators and Marco Schreuder (Green Party Representative, Vienna) assist me in getting Aeryn’s case file from the Vienna Police and ensuring that the file be given to the Cold Case Squad for further review.

Please, help raise awareness for Aeryn’s case by signing my petition at Change.org. The petition is addressed to Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) and Marco Schreuder (Green Party-Vienna) and is easy to sign through this online website.

Someone asked me how long will I continue to fight for answers; for the possibility of bringing my son home; for the justice denied to my son?  The answer is simple: Forever. In his absence I am his voice, and in his absence I will continue to fight.

Thank you,
Kathy Gillern

Monday, January 23, 2012

National GSA Day: Honoring the Work of LGBT Students and Allies


January 25th is National GSA Day! GSA Day was created in 2006 when Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack declared October 25th “Iowa Gay-Straight Alliance Day” to honor the accomplishments of youth-led Gay-Straight Alliance groups. Since then, Iowa Pride Network has put on “Iowa Gay-Straight Alliance Day” each year. Over time, more and more states have wanted to join and this year the celebration has become a national event!

PFLAG National is proud to be partnering with National GSA Day to honor over 3,000 Gay-Straight Alliance groups across the country who have provided safe spaces for LGBT students and their allies while working to end violence, homophobia, transphobia, and hate in their schools. When schools have a GSA, incidences of verbal harassment are 10-25% less likely to occur, physical assault is 23% less likely to happen, and students are 15-23% less likely to miss school because they feel unsafe.

These school assemblies represent an important bond between LGBT individuals and their straight friends, teachers, and community members. “Americans need to know that thousands of students each day go to school or college and endure LGBT violence and harassment” says the GSA Day website. “They must also know that GSAs are a tool in helping end violence, and that these student groups save lives.” A toolkit is available online for free, and helps student groups plan their own GSA Days at their schools.

Though the National GSA Day events usually take place at schools and colleges, all allies are able to participate! You can show your support by being a visible ally at work or amongst friends, by making fliers about the Day’s purpose, or writing thank you notes to the supportive educators in your community. These suggestions, and many more, can be found on National GSA Day’s website in their section for Adults.

Take Action: Spread the word about this celebratory day! "Like” National GSA Day on Facebook, pass along the message on Twitter, or join the National GSA Day’s video campaign and express the importance of GSAs and LGBT-Straight alliances!   

Friday, January 20, 2012

“No Name Calling Week” Educates about the Power of Words

January 23rd to January 27th is “No Name Calling Week,” an awareness campaign inspired by James Howe’s young adult book called “The Misfits.” The story tells of a group of friends who are teased and bullied. The self-professed “Gang of Five” decides to run in their student elections, promoting a “No Name-Calling Day” at their school. The spirit of the story has now become an annual week of education where students, parents, and educators call for the elimination of bullying in their communities.


This year GLSEN has released a new report on bullying in elementary schools called “Playground and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States,” the first national study to look at homophobia, gender nonconformity and bullying at the K-5 level. 

The study found that 45% of students and 49% of teachers heard the word “gay” used in a negative way regularly; 75% of students reported that students at their school are harassed regularly—23% of this harassment is against gender non-conforming children and 21% is against students who are perceived to be gay. Nearly one out of every ten elementary students from 3rd to 6th grade indicated that they did not conform to “traditional” gender roles or norms. These students were less likely to feel safe at school and less than half of teachers thought these students would feel comfortable at their school. Only 34% of teachers have reported attempting to create safe classrooms for gender non-conforming students.

Based on this report, GLSEN has developed the Ready, Set, Respect! toolkit, which PFLAG National was proud to review prior to release and excited to promote on our National Blog earlier this month. Created to help educators ensure all students and families feel valued and respected, the toolkit is a unique resource for teaching the concept of respect. The toolkit contains lesson plans which focus on name-calling, bullying and bias, LGBT-inclusive family diversity and gender roles and diversity, and is available for free on glsen.org

Education surrounding “No Name-Calling Week” and GLSEN’s incredibly informative, yet concerning, study are being released at a time when we have an opportunity to help create change for our students at the federal level. The reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or NCLB/ESEA) is being discussed in Congress, and Senators are considering adding the Student Non-Discrimination Act (S.555) into their version of the bill. If added, SNDA would ban discrimination and harassment against a student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill will be introduced by Senator Al Franken (D-MN) as an amendment to NCLB/ESEA, and is crucial to ensuring that every week is “No-Name Calling Week” in our nation’s schools.

Take Action: Please, take a stand for students’ safety in public schools by contacting your Senators and urging them to become a co-sponsor SNDA. Every phone call counts! The more we express the urgency of building safer schools today, the more attention we will receive. For up-to-date news on upcoming legislation and action alerts as they happen, subscribe to PFLAG National’s Action E-List!
If you would like to get involved in “No Name-Calling Week” please visit the NNCW website.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Republican NY State Senators Gain Financial Support for Marriage Equality Votes


Last June, four Republican state senators gave their support—and their votes—to marriage equality in New York. Now, according to the campaign finance filings released this Tuesday, the lawmakers’ generosity is being returned to them through substantial monetary support.

When State Senators Roy J. McDonald, Stephen M. Saland, Senator Mark Grisanti, and James S. Alesi defied their own party’s negative position on the bill, they showed that voting for marriage equality isn’t a single-party issue; Republicans are supportive of equal rights too.
Senator Alesi from East Rochester was the first to publically state his support for marriage equality. In an interview, Sen. Alesi reported that over half of his newly acquired donations came from marriage equality supporters. “I didn’t vote for the money,” he said, “but it’s gratifying to know the support is there, especially coming into an election year.”

The senators raised between $325,000 and $447,000 during the six months after they voted on the bill—numbers which were much higher than average—due to their critical votes. For example, Sen. McDonald’s financial total was about 27 times more than he raised during the same period in 2009. Even the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, who opposed the marriage law, benefited from the four senator’s votes, gaining $350,000 from three well-known Wall Street executives in acknowledgement for simply allowing the vote to take place.

However, these senators are now facing political push-back for their supportive stances. The state’s Conservative Party has already threatened them with political retribution, and ultra-conservative organizations are expressing their intent to stop the senators’ re-election.

Despite the negative feedback from marriage equality opposition, support for these brave Republican senators continues. Though it is uncommon for state senators to receive financial support from individual voters, small donations in recognition of the senators’ votes have come from as far away as Texas and Mississippi.  

Marriage equality cannot be achieved through one political party. Without the votes of these state senators, the bill may never have passed. Washington state senators from both parties have already signed on to the state’s new marriage equality bill. As we look to state legislators considering marriage equality bills this season, including Maryland and New Jersey, we hope to see more Republicans break party lines to support fair and equal rights for LGBT citizens.

Take Action: Please considering reaching out to your state legislators today, underscoring the importance of LGBT equality. These personal conversations are enormously important in building strong and meaningful relationships that will help pave the way for the necessary laws and policies required to extend full equality to our loved ones. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ready, Set, Respect!

We’re excited to share a great new resource available to the PFLAG network, courtesy of our friends at GLSEN.

Ready, Set, Respect! is GLSEN’s Elementary School Tookit, designed to ensure that all students and families feel respected and valued.

This 66-page guide, developed in response to the first national elementary school climate survey, was created to help educators encourage safe and positive learning environments for students in their early years of schooling, which of course helps lay the groundwork to creating safe and welcoming middle and high schools.

This new toolkit—which we were honored to review prior to publication—is a new and unique resource for educators, part professional development and part curricular resource. And what’s even better? It’s available as a free download at glsen.org!

The materials cover subjects such as Name-Calling and Bullying; Family Diversity; and more, all topics that were addressed in GLSEN’s 2010 elementary school climate survey, the first of its kind.

The toolkit was developed in partnership with The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) – the world's largest organization working on behalf of young children, and The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), a professional organization serving elementary and middle school principals and other education leaders throughout the United States, Canada, and overseas.

To learn more about Ready, Set, Respect!  visit http://www.glsen.org/binary-data/GLSEN_ATTACHMENTS/file/000/002/2028-1.pdf.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2012 PFLAG National Scholarships - Apply Now!


The 2012 PFLAG National Scholarship season is now open! To apply, simply visit our website at http://pflag.org/scholarships. We encourage LGBT students and student allies to download the application online, print supporting documentation and review the biographies of our 2011 scholarship recipients.

PFLAG National is dedicated to creating a world where our young people may grow and learn, free from fear, violence, bullying and discrimination because of their real or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation, or because of the identities of their families or friends. We wish to support young student leaders who are committed to carrying out this vision for their own generation and those to come.

ALL COMPLETED APPLICATIONS, INCLUDING SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS (RELEASE FORM, RECOMMENDATION AND HIGH SCHOOL TRANSCRIPT), MUST BE POSTMARKED BY FRIDAY, MARCH 16, 2012. ALL SUPPORTING DOCUMENTATION MUST BE MAILED IN ONE COMPLETE PACKET.

All 2012 scholarship applicants and winners will be notified by Monday, May 28th, 2012. The checks for the scholarship recipients will be disbursed in early August, 2012 and will be sent directly to the student’s future college. For additional information, contact Mekina Lucas, Safe Schools and Diversity Outreach Coordinator, at 202-467-8180 x. 212 or mlucas@pflag.org.

Please share this exciting scholarship with your networks and throughout your communities!  Given the high volume of scholarships we received in previous years please encourage students to apply early for this amazing opportunity.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Day On, Not A Day Off

Today, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, we hear from Robby Gregg, PFLAG's Associate Director of Equality & Diversity Partnerships.

As a Black male, when I think about the holiday honoring Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr. there's a part of me that pauses in reflection. Dr. King’s legacy lives in each of us, if we choose to realize it.

Dr. King dedicated his life to nonviolent change and peaceful demonstration, but his commitment to equity for all is what's most enduring for me.  I think about a conversation I had with one of my mentor-friends, Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, a well-known academician and director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art. Dr. Cole was a confidant of Mrs. Coretta Scott King.  I have spoken with her many times about Mrs. King's leadership in the fight for the equality of all people - inclusive of the LGBT community. Through those talks, I've learned that Mrs. King felt that as a Black woman, she, too, knew what it felt like to have the hand of injustice played against you simply because of your status.

And, what of the similarities between the struggle of Blacks and the LGBT community? Indeed, we need not pause on our differences, but instead celebrate the unity among us.

Mrs. King once said,  

“Wherever you go in your lives and whatever you do, I urge you to hold up the values of dignity, respect, and goodwill for all people, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and age, physical or mental disability.  Never let bigotry go unchallenged.  Always speak out against prejudice and discrimination whenever it emerges.  Make your voice, your deeds, and indeed, your life, a force that affirms sisterhood and brotherhood among all people.  If you can make this simple commitment, your life will grow in meaning, purpose, and nobility and America will grow in greatness.”

Today, I am grateful; grateful for the opportunity to stand up and serve and to attempt to make a difference in the lives of others.  My request of you is to join me. Don’t look at the holiday as a day off, but rather a day on—a day to remember how simple actions, simple deeds, and simple words, can make a huge difference.  

Dr. King said, “We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.”  Let’s live together as brothers and sisters and make a commitment to standing up, not sitting down!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Letter to Dr. King from a foot solider for all equality...




Dear Dr. Martin Luther King;

A very close clergy friend of mine each year writes a letter to you that assesses the current state of racial and other matters against the background of your significant leadership. His letter is read throughout the United Methodist Church and beyond because of its quality, consistency and his prominence.

This year on the eve of what would have been your 83rd birthday on January 15th I also pen these words with the hope that they may help to bridge a justice gap that continues to exist in 2012.

I am a proud foot soldier of the civil rights movement  --Mississippi Freedom Summer,  the March on Washington, the Selma to Montgomery March and the March in Boston that you led in April of 1965.

When we first met at our alma mater, Boston University School of Theology in 1958 when I was 24 and you were five years older,  I always addressed you as Doctor as my way of celebrating your academic achievements that were linked to your justice leadership.

Today if you were still with us, I think you would agree that there is still a justice gap that we must address.

This justice gap exists among some persons who affirm the legitimacy of the struggle for racial civil rights, but have not yet embraced the civil rights struggles of  gay, lesbian, bisexuals, and transgender persons (GLBT).

Most persons acknowledge that the civil rights movement was the name of the effort that you and so many others led to achieve racial justice. But, some believe that the human/civil rights efforts to achieve justice for GLBT persons and same sex couples somehow transgresses upon the unique specificity of the quest for racial justice of the Civil Rights Movement.

I, as an African American straight ally and advocate of gay rights and a foot soldier in the civil rights movement disagree with those who believe that the negation of the gay rights movement somehow is necessary in order to give proper respect to the black rights movement that we all know as the Civil Rights Movement.

Whenever I encounter words and attitudes that deny one movement in order to respect another Movement, I remember your words in “Letter From Birmingham Jail", Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  I believe that persons who have no doubts about the legitimacy of the racial justice movement, but deny the legitimacy of other justice movements isolate and thus weaken their arguments for racial justice.

Finally, Dr. King, many of the arguments against Constitutionally-granted justice for gay persons and couples are shaped by a kind of biblical interpretation that links Bible to bias. We experienced that in the Civil Rights Movement as some persons resisted racial equality on biblical grounds. But our Movement proclaimed to the nation that bias, no matter how deeply rooted in biblical interpretation or cultural traditions, could not, should not and would not defy or deny the equal justice language in our national Constitution.

We believed on matters of race that in the USA, some persons could not be more equal than others. If that is true on matters of race, it must be true for all persons, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Our discussions and debates within religious bodies will continue, but those debates must not weaken the concept and practice of equality that defines and describes who we are as Americans.

Sincerely,

Gilbert H. Caldwell
Retired United Methodist Minister
Asbury Park, New Jersey

Member of the national Board of PFLAG (Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays)

Monday, January 9, 2012

IL PFLAG Members Meet with Senator Kirk on SNDA

On Tuesday, December 20, PFLAG leaders in Illinois teamed up with Equality Illinois and students from a local GSA for meetings with Senator Mark Kirk’s staff in Chicago to urge the Senator to sign on as a cosponsor of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA). This bill would provide explicit federal protections for LGBT students from harassment and discrimination in school settings nationwide.

When Senator Kirk’s staffer expressed her boss’ concerns about the potential increase in lawsuits against school districts under SNDA, Revered Suzanne Anderson-Hurdle cited data showing that Illinois school districts that had implemented similar laws locally, experienced a decrease in litigation. PFLAG members pointed out that litigation is usually the last resort in bullying cases, and is only pursued in extreme cases where school districts did nothing to solve ongoing problems.

At the end of the meeting, Caroline Staerk, Field Director for Equality Illinois, hand-delivered over 1,000 signed anti-bullying pledges that her organization from constituents all across the state expressing their strong support for SNDA’s desperately needed federal protections.

As Senator Kirk and his Senate colleagues consider including SNDA in the broader reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), it is critical that we reach out to all of our Senators through in-district visits, phone calls and letters expressing our support for this critical legislation.

Senator Al Franken, who introduced SNDA to the Senate, has been working hard to garner support for this bill. He has asked PFLAG members and other organizations for LGBT equality to urge their Senators to become cosponsors of SNDA.

Take Action – Please watch and share Senator Franken’s message about the importance of SNDA for LGBT youth: www.alfranken.com/snda.