Friday, January 3, 2014

Policy Matters - January 2, 2014


Presidentially, on Jan. 21, also Martin Luther King Day, President Obama was sworn in for his second term, and LGBT people started that term with overt inclusion by him and his Administration. First, President Obama historically said the words ‘our gay brothers and sisters’ and ‘Stonewall’ in his inaugural address while calling for equality under the law, with the Inauguration theme being “Our People, Our Future.” Read President Obama's 2013 Inaugural Address. Second, in the Presidential Inaugural Parade to honor his second inauguration, PFLAG’s iconic image, the photo of PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford and her gay son Morty, marching with other LGBT activists 40 years before, was featured as a cornerstone of the Civil Rights Float. Read PFLAG National's responsive news release from that day. You can watch the full official parade and ceremony. Third, a month later, President Obama announced Jeanne Manford, who died on January 8th at age 92, as a posthumous recipient of The Presidential Citizen Medal, the second highest civilian honor in the U.S., later accepted in a White House ceremony by her daughter Suzanne Manford Swann. This event was also noted as one of 12 White House LGBT highlights in its Dec. 31 email message. You can see his remarks here.

Representatively, the 113th Congress, begun on January 3rd, ushered in an unprecedented diversity and number of new LGBT Representatives, nearly tripling the House LGBT Equality Caucus Co-Chairs and heralding the nation’s first openly gay Senator, Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who was already historic as the nation’s first openly gay federal legislative candidate, when she ran successfully as a U.S. Representative from 1999-2013. In the 113th Congress, openly gay Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and David Cicilline (D-RI) were joined in the House by four new history-making openly LGBT Representatives, including Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) (the first openly gay U.S. Representative to replace an openly gay immediate predecessor), Mark Tokano (D-CA) (the nation’s first openly LGBT Member of Congress of color as the first openly LGBT Asian-American Representative), Sean Patrick Murphy (D-NY) (New York’s first openly gay Representative), and the nation’s first openly bisexual Representative, Congresswoman Kristen Simena (D-AZ). Congress’s first self-disclosed openly gay Congressman, Barney Frank from Massachusetts, retired on January 2nd after 32 years in the seat to close the 112th Congress.

Legislatively, PFLAGers attained four significant victories, wins in Washington, DC that deliver or pace us toward protection for and inclusion of our LGBT families:
  • The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) was passed by both chambers of Congress, signed into law by President Obama and became the nation’s second explicitly gender identity-inclusive law, with the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act being the first.
  • The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed the Senate with fully inclusive consideration and strong bipartisan support, both historic first-time achievements. The House still has time to bring it to the Floor for a vote in the 113th Congress in 2014. ENDA was the focused legislative priority for PFLAG’s National Lobby Day in October 2013, and the Senate vote was held in November.
  • The HOPE Act, which permits HIV positive organ donors and recipients legal access to organ donation, passed in 2013 with overwhelming bipartisan support in both the U.S. House and Senate and was signed into law by President Obama. The HOPE Act was a legislative priority for PFLAG’s National Lobby Day in 2013.
  • The Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly called Obamacare and signed into law in 2010, opened its Health Insurance Marketplaces in 2013 to permit LGBT people to receive more legal protections when seeking health insurance, including the predominant need to be free from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Evidence shows that LGBT people are at disproportionate risk for heart disease and cancer, more likely to experience poverty and less likely to have health insurance than non-LGBT counterparts. New protections afforded under ACA helps LGBT people who are currently uninsured or underinsured, especially for those who need to apply for Medicaid or secure affordable healthcare insurance coverage in the Marketplace offering in their own state. The call for affordable quality care is addressed by ACA. Specifically helpful to LGBT people are enumerated benefits, including the removal of explicit exceptions for pre-existing conditions, free annual health prevention screenings for designated tests, the ability to keep dependents on parents’ policies until age 26, and the elimination of annual and lifetime spending caps (upper financial limits on what is financially granted in healthcare coverage) for benefits and treatments received. While signup to have healthcare effective Jan. 1, 2014 expired on Dec. 24, 2013 with first premium payments due on Dec. 31, Marketplace enrollment is still open and available until March 31, 2014.
Judicially, The Supreme Court of The United States (SCOTUS) ruled on June 26th to strike down Section 3 of The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which established that marriage is between one man and one woman. On the same day, SCOTUS also struck down California’s Proposition 8 (Prop 8) that prohibited same-sex marriage. This one day of decision in The Supreme Court brought on a landslide of actions federally and in states across the country to recognize same-sex marriage as a point of equality and fairness in our country. As a result federally, The Respect for Marriage Act (RMA) was introduced that day in the Senate and House, the Administration began issuing new guidance to adhere to the SCOTUS rulings, and state advocates, for which PFLAG chapters tuned their efforts, across the country found new fuel to permit same-sex marriage, including Colorado (civil unions), Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, Utah and others. Policy Matters will keep you advised as developments occur.

Administratively, LGBT people and their families, including legally married same-sex couples, achieved abundant inclusion in federal government programs across Administration Departments, most as outcomes of the June 26th SCOTUS ruling that eradicated Section 3 of DOMA. These include:
  • The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) honors same-sex partners to be included
  • Social Security Administration (SSA) treatment of same-sex married couples’ benefits
  • Department of Defense’s recognition of military dependents including same-sex spouses and their children
  • Department of Education’s determination to include income from both same-sex parents as students seek to qualify for federal education loans
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS) permitting joint federal tax filing
  • The determination that same-sex married couples receive equal treatment regarding skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes
  • Immigration affirmation granting the ability for a same-sex spouse the ability to qualify for a green card; and
  • The Peace Corps’ announcement allowing same-sex domestic partners (or married couples) to serve together overseas as it allows opposite-sex married couples to do.
Policy Matters will continue reporting on these benefits as they are announced.

Historically, the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington in August included special recognition and inclusion of Bayard Rustin, the chief architect of the March on Washington in 1963 where The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Rustin was not permitted to join the organizing team in 1963 when the rest were invited to The White House. In 2013, he was lauded during the series of recognizing events and several were held specifically to honor his distinguished role.

Another Administration victory for LGBT people was the Presidential Medal of Freedom being awarded to two of our own: the first American female astronaut in space Sally Ride and architect of the civil rights and employment March on Washington in 1963 Bayard Rustin, both deceased, marking the first time that same-sex partners accepted this Medal on behalf of the honored recipients, their partners. Tam O’Shaughnessy accepted on behalf of her partner Sally Ride and Walter Naegle accepted on behalf of his partner Bayard Rustin.


As we look back at the issues and policies that made headlines in 2013, here are the Policy Matters top eight issues to stay focused on in 2014, all of which remain active in the 113th Congress for federal issues, and state issues will be driven in accord with states’ own determined priority lists and timetables:
  • Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The House will continue to receive outreach and pressure to take action and vote on a fully inclusive ENDA while we still have a year left in this 113th Congress. Efforts to urge President Obama to sign an Executive Order regarding federal contractors to prohibit workplace discrimination will continue as well.
  • Building protections and equality in states. In 2014, protection for people who are LGBT, especially youth, will remain a priority, especially on the topics of equal access in schools, correcting identity documents for transgender and gender non-conforming people, anti-Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) legislation (with SOCE understood to continue to be inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression), and workplace discrimination. This will build on the 2013 gains in San Antonio, Texas and the state of Delaware, which both added a gender identity workplace non-discrimination law. Same-sex marriages in Ohio must be recognized on death certificates. This was a narrow ruling, but we will stay focused on how it can be applied wherever appropriate. PFLAG National will continue to work strategically with chapters through their state coalitions to improve the lives and welfare of LGBT people. And stay tuned to Jan. 8 when we learn about whether California’s AB 1266 which grants transgender equal access in schools, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, has garnered sufficient opposition to make this matter move to a popular vote on the ballot in November.
  • Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and Student Non-Discrimination Act ( SNDA). As Congress moves toward agreeing upon the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the 113th Congress, these two bills -- either by inclusion with exact language or by expressed intent with similar language -- are expected to be included. Advocacy will gear up as the bill is prioritized to be considered to bring to the Floor for a vote.
  • Every Child Deserves a Family (ECDF). This child welfare bill still needs more cosponsors in both chambers of Congress. Advocates will continue to educate about the importance of making legally possible the linking of children with parents for adoption and guardians for fostering, including LGBT children and potential LGBT parents.
  • Immigration Reform. LGBT people and same-sex couples, especially those with children, are disproportionately affected by stringent restrictions regarding immigration that fail to recognize our families, laws that keep our bi-national families apart at alarming rates. While proponents, including PFLAG National, continued legislative overtures to urge Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform amidst multiple bills and proposed amendments being drafted by Representatives and Senators, no firm action moved forward in 2013. There is a lack of a clear priority designation for real action by Congress beyond discussion and an expressed desire by members from both parties to achieve reform.
  • The Repeal HIV Discrimination (REPEAL) Act. Following the overwhelming bipartisan and bicameral passage and signing into law by the President of the HOPE Act (a PFLAG legislative priority), advocates have stepped up education about this bill to legislators in the Senate and in the House. There remains friction on the expressed role of the federal government to ask states to review their laws, heightened by the quick action of states now facing decisions about same-sex marriage. While unrelated, the issues collide for some legislators, and we remain active on meeting with, listening to, and working with legislators to identify and salute common ground.
  • Respect for Marriage Act (RMA). This bill was introduced on June 26th, immediately following the SCOTUS decisions eradicating Section 3 of DOMA -- that marriage is only between one man and one woman -- and striking down California’s Prop 8.  Both chambers introduced the bill on the day. Section 2 of DOMA, which RMA would remove, remains law. RMA would remove Section 2 of DOMA and deems same-sex marriages portable, whereby same-sex marriages performed in states where legal still are made certain in all states, recognized everywhere as opposite-sex marriages are now. The bill’s reintroduction, along with more than 30 legal cases on the topic, keep this alive as a legislative opportunity toward equality.Passing RMA remains a PFLAG legislative priority.
  • International call for equality. Our work in 2014 is clearly laid out by actions around the globe. International equality took a dangerous step backward this year in Uganda (with an anti-gay bill that includes life in prison), Russia (with an equally as drastic anti-gay law), and India (where the Supreme Court recently upheld the criminalization of homosexual acts). Marriage equality was overruled in Australia, and violence against LGBT people increased in many countries including JamaicaHondurasIran, and Haiti. PFLAG National will also continue its focused work, where and when invited, to assist in the creation of family and ally networks based on the successful PFLAG model of support, education, and advocacy and the need for parental and familial support and affirmation. The year 2013 brought some gains on which we can build in 2014 to ensure that what was passed is truly enforced. Trans right took significant progressive steps forward in places like Germany (which now offers a third gender option on birth certificates) and Bangladesh (offering third-gender status to hijras). Marriage equality became the law of the land in BrazilFranceEngland (marriages to commence in March 2014), New Zealand, and Uruguay. Benin decriminalized homosexuality, and New Zealand, Gibraltar, and France legalized same-sex adoption. To support international efforts, PFLAG National participated in numerous conferences outside the United States, including in China and Peru, helping to elevate the PFLAG family and ally model as a successful method for changing hearts, minds, and policy.
As we enter the new year, let’s celebrate the healthy host of hard-won victories of 2013, and be ready to stand strongly together again in 2014 as PFLAG parents, families, friends, allies as we march toward equality for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender non-conforming community members.

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