LGBT equality

Stop School Bullying Today

Please do your part by asking your senators and President Obama to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
PFAW

DOJ and DOE Resolve Harassment Allegations in Minnesota School District, Plus Call to Action on Bullying

On Monday, DOJ, DOE, six students, and the Anoka-Hennepin School District proposed an agreement resolving complaints of sex-based harassment of middle and high school students in the school district. And in Congress, we need you to take action on bullying.
PFAW

Every Child Deserves a Family

Half million children in the foster care system. 120,000 eligible for adoption. Every child deserves a family.
PFAW

Maryland Families Turn the Heart of a (Formerly) Anti-Equality Legislator

When the right wing's distorted and evil portrayal of LGBT people comes up against the reality of our lives, it's hard for the lie to stay alive.

Just ask Maryland Del. Wade Kach, a Republican who has supported a bill to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, and who even voted against the pending marriage equality bill in committee two days ago. But this morning, he announced a change of heart. The Baltimore Sun quotes from Del. Kach's statement:

My constituents sent me to Annapolis to represent them and use my best judgment. They did not send me to sit in judgment of the lives of others.

As a proud member of the party of Lincoln, I believe that we as legislators should be more concerned with relieving the tax burden of families than telling them how to behave in their own homes.

Like so many others, my thoughts on the issue of civil marriage have evolved over the course of recent months as a result of much reflection and listening to good people on both sides of this issue. Instrumental to my decision are the enhanced protections for churches, clergy, and faith leaders in my community and in communities around the state.

While no one event or conversation prompted me to come to this decision, I was significantly moved by the testimony of families -- who are raising children in a loving environment and deserve every right to enjoy the same protections and responsibilities that our laws provide for others.

The marriage equality bill is scheduled to be debated on the House floor this evening, with a vote possibly as early as tomorrow.

PFAW

Maryland Families Turn the Heart of a (Formerly) Anti-Equality Legislator

When the right wing's distorted and evil portrayal of LGBT people comes up against the reality of our lives, it's hard for the lie to stay alive.

Just ask Maryland Del. Wade Kach, a Republican who has supported a bill to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, and who even voted against the pending marriage equality bill in committee two days ago. But this morning, he announced a change of heart. The Baltimore Sun quotes from Del. Kach's statement:

My constituents sent me to Annapolis to represent them and use my best judgment. They did not send me to sit in judgment of the lives of others.

As a proud member of the party of Lincoln, I believe that we as legislators should be more concerned with relieving the tax burden of families than telling them how to behave in their own homes.

Like so many others, my thoughts on the issue of civil marriage have evolved over the course of recent months as a result of much reflection and listening to good people on both sides of this issue. Instrumental to my decision are the enhanced protections for churches, clergy, and faith leaders in my community and in communities around the state.

While no one event or conversation prompted me to come to this decision, I was significantly moved by the testimony of families -- who are raising children in a loving environment and deserve every right to enjoy the same protections and responsibilities that our laws provide for others.

The marriage equality bill is scheduled to be debated on the House floor this evening, with a vote possibly as early as tomorrow.

PFAW

Falsely Waving the Flag of Religious Liberty

To no one's surprise, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has rejected President Obama's compromise that respects both the rights of women to contraception and the religious liberty of employers who are affiliated with religious organizations opposed to birth control. Under the compromise, church-affiliated organizations will not be paying for contraception, and insurance carriers will bear the cost of providing it to women without a co-pay or deductible. The Catholic Health Association and Catholic Charities quickly announced that their concerns had been addressed, and that their religious liberty would not be impaired by the modified rules. Some Republicans such as Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are similarly satisfied.

Yet the Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as Republican congressional leaders and presidential candidates, are declaring that the compromise is part of a larger war against religious liberty. Senate Republicans are even suggesting that the birth control coverage requirement threatens the religious liberty of employers completely unconnected to religious organizations. But since these forces have so often similarly and wrongly categorized many government policies they disagree with, it is hard to take the claim seriously.

Religious liberty is one of the core protections of the United States Constitution, one whose importance cannot be overstated. And there are times when it may be proper to allow certain religious-based exemptions from generally applicable laws, such as conscientious objector status in a military context. But those are the exceptions, not the rule: We generally do not give people the right to be exempt from laws they disapprove of simply because their disapproval is religiously based.

In the current debate over health insurance, the Conference of Catholic Bishops and its partners use the language of universal religious liberty. But their February 10 news release explaining why they oppose the coverage requirement makes clear that they are making this claim only for the religious liberty of people who share their specific religious beliefs about contraception and abortion:

First, we objected to the rule forcing private health plans — nationwide, by the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen—to cover sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion. ...

Second, we explained that the mandate would impose a burden of unprecedented reach and severity on the consciences of those who consider such "services" immoral: insurers forced to write policies including this coverage; employers and schools forced to sponsor and subsidize the coverage; and individual employees and students forced to pay premiums for the coverage. We therefore urged HHS, if it insisted on keeping the mandate, to provide a conscience exemption for all of these stakeholders—not just the extremely small subset of "religious employers" that HHS proposed to exempt initially.

Their statement was notably silent about conscience protections for other religious beliefs. They have not been talking about the right of employers from denominations that generally reject modern medical intervention to not provide their employees health insurance at all. Matthew Yglesias asked in a blog post this week if they would rush to the defense of an employer named Abdul Hussain who refused on religious reasons to offer employees health insurance that lets employees visit doctors of the opposite sex. If you really thought the principle of religious liberty was at stake, would you be satisfied with a fix that addresses only your religious beliefs but ignores everyone else's?

Whether it's contraception, marriage equality, or abortion, "religious liberty" has too often been used as a feint to disguise an aggressive demand for special rights. Specifically, the radical right regularly demands exemptions for conservative Christians and those who share their beliefs from laws they don't like.

Even when they promote "conscience" legislation with broad language that seems to be applicable to all religious beliefs, their selectivity in demanding such laws is telling. For instance, the "conscience" provisions in marriage equality legislation are generally expressed in general terms not specific to gays and lesbians' marriages, but those provisions are only inserted into state law when gays and lesbians are finally allowed to marry. Such provisions were being pushed last year in Maryland, for instance, but when the marriage equality bill failed to pass, self-proclaimed religious liberty proponents on the right made no effort to adopt the conscience provisions that would then have only affected opposite-sex married couples. Nor are right-wing groups loudly demanding such religious liberty provisions in states with DOMA-style laws like Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah. In states like these, where marriage rights for same-sex couples are foreclosed, the right is not demanding the type of "conscience" provisions for groups not providing services to married couples that they demand in states where gays can marry. In cases like these, what they claim is a general religious liberty protection is clearly designed to hurt one group and one group only.

Consider the irony of right-wing groups who crusade against what they call "special rights" for LGBT people demanding statutory exemptions solely for their own particular religious beliefs. Can there be a better example of demanding "special rights?"

PFAW

UPDATE: Stop School Bullying this GSA Day!

As you know, PFAW recently celebrated GSA Day 2012 and the work of Gay-Straight Alliances that bring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight allied people together to stop bullying, homophobia, transphobia and hate, and we called on you to be part of the solution.
PFAW

What a Difference 18 Years Makes

Sometimes it’s hard to see what it means to make change. Last week OutServe brought us a notable exception.

Not long ago, this video could not have been made. It’s because so many people worked so hard over the past 18 years to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that this issue could be raised so openly from within the armed forces. And all of our work on It Gets Better and safe schools will be better for it.

PFAW

Stop School Bullying this GSA Day!

Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides in 2010, Senator Al Franken took a strong stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. His Student Non-Discrimination Act (S. 555) protects them from school-based discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. It recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Today, Senator Franken has an important video announcement for you regarding S. 555.

On the occasion of GSA Day 2012, when we celebrate the work of Gay-Straight Alliances that bringing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight allied people together to stop bullying, homophobia, transphobia and hate, PFAW has called on you to be part of the solution.

Below are some quick talking points (more detailed talking points here) you can use in your call and to help promote awareness about the bill.
  • Celebrate Gay-Straight Alliance Day by supporting and cosponsoring the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
  • Bullying and harassment are forms of discrimination, but federal civil rights statutes leave LGBT students, and those who are perceived to be LGBT, unprotected.
  • Bullying and harassment in schools is a pervasive national problem.
  • Both Americans overall and education professionals in particular recognize the problem and support congressional action.
  • When students lose their sense of safety, they lose their access to quality education.
  • As Congress works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it should address the bullying and harassment problem.
  • This isn’t just a question of education. It’s a matter of life and death.
Please call your senators now: Capitol Switchboard - (202) 224-3121

You can let us know how your call went with our online call report form.

More than one third of the Senate already supports the Student Non-Discrimination Act. You can check for your senators on the list here and if one or both of your senators are on it, please make your call a “thank you” call.

PFAW

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover’s Story Comes to ABC

Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides last fall, PFAW took a strong stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. Last Friday, ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition turned its attention to the story of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover.

On April 6, 2009, 11-year-old Carl Walker took his own life after being relentlessly bullied at school. Carl's family has focused their energies on helping others. They have turned this tragic event into something positive by lobbying for new state and federal laws against bullying.

The 3rd floor of the Walker home is where Carl took his own life. As a result, the family cannot bear the sadness of being on that floor. They need a new home that would meet their current needs yet also honor Carl in a positive way. Know anyone who can help?

Ty Pennington and designers Michael Moloney, Tracy Hutson, Jillian Harris, John Littlefield and local builders N. Riley Construction, Inc., as well as community volunteers, are tasked with building a new home while the Walkers are whisked away on a dream vacation to Hollywood.

As part of the episode, ABC teamed up with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network:

GLSEN worked with the Makeover team to create Stand Together, a community of people dedicated to taking action against bullying, with Sirdeaner Walker - a leading advocate on this issue - as the driving force behind the movement. The online hub featured in the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition episode is designed to raise awareness about the overwhelming number of bullying incidents in our nation's schools. Those touched by her work of making schools safe for all students can get involved and make a pledge against bullying and harassment by visiting www.standtogether.tv.

Stand Together is a great new tool to show how diverse the fight against bullying has become. They are well over one hundred thousand strong and still growing.

PFAW will continue its own advocacy to make sure that lessons are learned from stories like Carl's. Just this week, we sent a letter to the Senate supporting the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

S. 555 protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. It recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Ultimately, this is about stopping abhorrent behavior that prevents victimized students from accessing quality education. All children deserve far better than that.

Senator Franken is the sponsor of the Student Non-Discrimation Act.

On a personal note, Carl's story will remain saved in my DVR as a reminder of why I – why all of us in this fight do what we do.

PFAW

Proposition 8 Appeal Will Continue

Today, the California Supreme Court ruled that the proponents of Proposition 8 have standing under California law to defend it when government officials decline to. The court is addressing this issue at the request of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which needed an answer in order to determine if the Prop 8 proponents have standing to pursue their appeal of the federal district court decision striking Prop 8 down.

Since the proponents are now known to have standing under California law, the Ninth Circuit will likely rule that they have a stake in the outcome of the federal case and, therefore, standing for purposes of federal constitutional law.

The court clearly explained that its logic had nothing to do with Proposition 8 in particular, but with ballot initiatives in general. Its reasoning was straightforward:

Neither the Governor, the Attorney General, nor any other executive or legislative official has the authority to veto or invalidate an initiative measure that has been approved by the voters. It would exalt form over substance to interpret California law in a manner that would permit these public officials to indirectly achieve such a result by denying the official initiative proponents the authority to step in to assert the state‘s interest in the validity of the measure or to appeal a lower court judgment invalidating the measure when those public officials decline to assert that interest or to appeal an adverse judgment.

It is worth noting that other states do not always give initiative proponents the right under their own laws that California recognized today. This is a state court resolving a question of California law.

PFAW

PFAW Applauds Committee Vote on Respect For Marriage Act

Back in July, I had the privilege of attending the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act. Today brought me to another historic moment: the passage of that bill out of Committee.

Senator Feinstein, the bill’s chief sponsor, offered a perfect description of how times have changed.

“When DOMA passed 15 years ago, no state permitted same-sex marriage. Today, 6 states and the District of Columbia do: Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

So, today there are 131,000-plus legally married same-sex couples in this country.

These changes reflect a firmly-established legal principle in this country: marriage is a legal preserve of the states.

DOMA infringes on this state authority by requiring the federal government to disregard state law, and deny more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits to which all other legally married couples are entitled.”

Here are a mere few of the many highlights from the other nine Democrats on the Committee, all nine among the bill’s thirty cosponsors.

Chairman Leahy:

“The Federal Government should not deny recognition and protection to the thousands of Americans who are lawfully married under their state law. We must repeal DOMA to ensure the freedom and equality of all of our citizens.”

Senator Durbin:

“I voted for DOMA. I believe I was wrong.”

“If this is called to the floor and only the 30 cosponsors vote for it, it’s worth the effort.”

Senator Franken:

“But every year, when they fill out their federal tax return, Javen and Oby have to check the ‘single’ box. They have to sign that form—under penalty of perjury. Every year, DOMA forces Javen and Oby to lie under oath. Every year, Javen and Oby pay taxes to a government that says their marriage is a fiction, even though they are a married couple—in the eyes of the God that they worship, in the eyes of their friends and family, and in the eyes of the state of Connecticut.”

“And you know, when we do pass it, straight people aren’t suddenly going to become gay. Straight people aren’t going to stop getting married. No, we’re going to be just fine. What will happen is that millions upon millions of lesbian and gay Americans aren’t going to suffer the indignity of having their own government tell them that their marriages are no good. What will happen is that it will be easier for those people to start and protect their families.”

Senator Coons:

"This is a truly important day in our nation's journey toward equality," Senator Coons said. "We’ve made tremendous progress and I am proud of the committee's vote today. As more Americans join the cause of equality, the Senate is changing with it. Equality is never a special interest — it is a fundamental interest of this country. Whether the Respect for Marriage Act moves to the floor in this Congress or the next, we will eventually repeal DOMA. We must redouble our efforts to show that the love and commitment shared by same-sex couples is of equal value as that shared by heterosexual couples."

Please take a moment to add your name to PFAW's petition urging Congress to Dump DOMA and end this unconstitutional, discriminatory policy once and for all.

PFAW

SB 137 says Michigan bullies can hide behind religion

In 2002, upon completing eighth grade at MacDonald Middle School in East Lansing, MI, Matt Epling was the victim of a hazing assault by upperclassmen. Roughly forty days later, presumably still reeling from the aftermath of the incident, Matt committed suicide. In the years since, friends and family have honored his memory by fighting for the passage of Matt’s Safe School Law.

The latest iteration of this legislation passed the Michigan Senate on November 2. But instead of protecting students like Matt from bullying and harassment, SB 137 creates a potentially dangerous religious exemption.

This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian.

The First Amendment and the fundamental constitutional rights and principles it encompasses deserve our utmost respect and a passionate defense. But to exempt religion in this way is not the answer.

Matt’s father, [Kevin Epling], expressed his dismay in a Facebook post after the state senate vote on Wednesday. “I am ashamed that this could be Michigan’s bill on anti-bullying,” wrote Epling. “For years the line [from Republicans] has been ‘no protected classes,’ and the first thing they throw in…was a very protected class, and limited them from repercussions of their own actions.”

Senator Gretchen Whitmer:

Or as Dr. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, once said:

This is an issue of behavior, not belief.

News reports suggest that a compromise is in the works. Please tell the House and the Education Committee to:

Fix SB 137 by removing the exemption clause, adding statewide reporting requirements, and adding enumerated protections for categories such as race, disability, and sexual orientation.
PFAW

Houston Newspaper Retracts Endorsement Over Homophobic Flier

Over the weekend, the Houston Chronicle retracted its endorsement of a school board incumbent over a last-minute campaign flier dripping with homophobia.

A last-minute campaign flier for Rodriguez displays appalling homophobia. The flier urges recipients not just to vote for Rodriguez, but to vote against his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca, because he has been endorsed by the Houston GLBT Caucus, "the South's oldest civil rights organization dedicated solely to the advancement of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights." The flier further states that Fonseca has "spent years advocating for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender rights ... not kids," and winds up with a pair of bullet points noting that he's 54 years old with no children and has a male partner.

That's obvious gay-bashing, of the kind that HISD rightly prohibits on the playground. It has no place on HISD's board.

Not only did the Chronicle repudiate Manuel Rodriguez's efforts to stir up animus against gays and lesbians, it also pointed out a truth that the Right Wing desperately wants to hide:

Advocating for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights is advocating for kids. GLBT kids are among those who most need adult protection and support.

...

Members of the school board are supposed to be role models, not bullies. They're supposed to support civil rights, not fight against them. They're supposed to fight hate speech, not commit it.

It's important to stand up to bullying, intolerant behavior, whether on the playground or at the ballot box.

 Kudos to the Chronicle for taking a principled stand against those who use homophobia to troll for votes.

 

PFAW

Don't Ask Don't Tell: So Long, Farewell

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the discriminatory law that banned gays and lesbians from openly serving in our nation’s armed forces, has been officially been relegated to the history books after a devastating 18-year existence that snatched away the careers of more than 14,000 capable and dedicated servicemembers. With repeal celebrations happening across the country, President Obama released a statement, which said in part,

Today’s achievement is a tribute to all the patriots who fought and marched for change; to members of Congress, from both parties, who voted for repeal; to our civilian and military leaders who ensured a smooth transition; and to the professionalism of our men and women in uniform.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal is a major achievement in itself, but it is also indicative of where we are as a country regarding LGBT equality. While the Right Wing has issued statements condemning this historic occasion, Republican members of Congress have largely remained silent. Opponents of gay rights realize that their discriminatory views are quickly becoming outdated, and that younger voters overwhelmingly support LGBT equality.

Celebrations have been occurring across the country. One moving video in particular has gone viral on Youtube. In it, a gay soldier from Alabama, currently stationed in Germany, calls his father right after Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal is finalized to come out. The soldier is greeted with acceptance and loving support. After the long fight waged by People For the American Way, other progressive groups and brave men and women in uniform who often risked their careers to fight for what they believe in, it’s heartening to see how America has become a little more just, equal and fair today than it was before.

 

 

PFAW