LGBT

U.S. Senators to LGBT Youth: “We’re making it better”

Thirteen members of the Senate are the latest voices in the It Gets Better Project. In this five-minute long video, senators from across the country speak out to send a message of hope and support for LGBT youth and a call to action for all Americans. Check it out: 

Through its efforts and mission the It Gets Better Project sends a positive message to LGBT youth, but I applaud the senators for taking the message one step further by saying: “we’re making it better”. Going beyond the simple, yet powerful, message of “it gets better,” these senators show us that taking action—and not passively waiting—will result in significant advances and great victories for LGBT rights.

Pointing out their support for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, and some even speaking out in support of marriage equality, these senators show their commitment to fighting for the LGBT community.

“It’s going to get better. Believe in it, let’s fight for it.”  - Senator Udall (CO)

It is disappointing, however, that we only hear from the voices of Democrats. Speaking out against harassment and discrimination of any form, against any group should transcend partisan politics and be countered with action from both sides of the aisle.

In talking about the importance and necessity of working together, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut put it best:

“Our nation has always done better when all of us, no matter where we’re from, what we look like, or whom we love, work together.”

Making it better to ensure that it gets better requires courage, commitment, and hard work on the part of both our leaders and individuals. I am so pleased to see a handful of senators coming out in support of LGBT rights and fighting to fulfill the promise of equality for all.

Special thanks to the following senators for speaking out in support of LGBT rights and continuing the fight for equality: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH), Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA.), Sen. Dick Durbin (IL.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA), Sen. Al Franken (MN), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Sen. Mark Udall (CO), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Sen. Ron Wyden (OR).

And I would like to extend a very special thank you to Senator Chris Coons (DE), who believes “equality is a question of morality,” for leading this important and inspiring effort.

It is my hope that we will soon hear from more members of Congress—Democrats and Republicans alike—with a similar message of making it better for LGBT youth.

PFAW

From Fringe Figure to Movement Leader: Michele Bachmann's Far-Right Roots

Cross posted on The Huffington Post

Rep. Michele Bachmann, who today officially announce her candidacy for the presidency, isn't just a Tea Party candidate - in many ways she embodies the evolution of the movement. The Minnesota congresswoman, who built a reputation as an outspoken and often outrageous defender of extreme social conservatism, is increasingly trying to portray herself as a champion of fiscal conservatism - and using the language of social conservatism to do it. As she attempts to frame herself as a low-tax champion, and tone down her speech to reach a broader audience, it's important to remember where Bachmann's fiscal conservatism comes from. Bachmann represents a newly powerful force in American politics: a hard-right, pro-corporate fiscal conservative wrapped up in the rhetoric of the Religious Right. To know her, you have to know the far-right social movement in which she remains rooted.

A former state legislator who built her career fighting reproductive choice and gay rights, Bachmann continues to ally herself with far-right groups in her home state and to push her extreme ideology in Congress. As a Minnesota state senator, she was known for her radical anti-choice, anti-gay and anti-evolution campaigns. She cosponsored a measure to give "14th Amendment protections to an embryo or fetus," similar to the extreme and likely unconstitutional fetal "personhood" amendments that have been rejected by even very conservative state legislatures in recent months. She has since endorsed one such measure in Ohio, which would ban abortions after the "heartbeat" of a fetus is detected. She cosponsored legislation to undermine the teaching of evolution, stating that people who believe in the science of evolution are part of a "cult following."

But she was perhaps best known for her all-out campaign against gay rights. A People For the American Way report summarized:

In the State Senate, she spearheaded the effort to pass a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. "The immediate consequence, if gay marriage goes through," Bachmann said , "is that K-12 little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal, natural and perhaps they should try it." She has also referred to homosexuality as "personal enslavement" and a "sexual identity disorder." Bachmann also promoted the claim that gays and lesbians recruit children, maintaining that her mission to block LGBT rights "is a very serious matter, because it is our children who are the prize for this community, they are specifically targeting our children."

Bachmann's willingness to go to the extreme right of any social debate earned her like-minded friends in Minnesota. She has forged close ties with a pastor named Bradlee Dean and his extreme anti-gay ministry, "You Can Run But You Cannot Hide." Dean believes that homosexuality should be criminalized , and once praised Muslims who call for the execution of homosexuals as "more moral" than toleration-minded American Christians:

Muslims are calling for the executions of homosexuals in America. This just shows you they themselves are upholding the laws that are even in the Bible of the Judeo-Christian God, but they seem to be more moral than even the American Christians do, because these people are livid about enforcing their laws. They know homosexuality is an abomination...Hollywood is promoting immorality and God of the heavens in Jesus' name is warning you to turn from the wrath to come. Yet you have Muslims calling for your execution. If America won't enforce the laws, God will raise up a foreign enemy to do just that. That's what you are seeing today in America.

Dean claims that most gay people are child molesters, estimating that "on average, they molest 117 people before they're found out" and insists that anti-bullying programs in schools amount to "homosexual indoctrination." In one particularly bizarre train of thought , he asserted that Muslim congressman Keith Ellison was working with gay and lesbians to impose Sharia law: "He wants to bring in Sharee [sic] law through the homosexual agenda.... They are using the homosexuals as a political battering ram to bring forth what? Sharee [sic] law." Dean has also accused President Obama of turning the U.S. into a "Muslim nation," and recently roundly appalled the Minnesota state House when he delivered a prayer questioning the president's Christian faith.

Dean's unhinged extremism hasn't turned off Bachmann. She was the host of a 2009 fundraiser for his group, participated in a documentary he made, and delivered a public prayer calling for God to "expand this ministry beyond anything that the originators of this ministry could begin to think or imagine." This summer, Bachmann is scheduled to share the stage with Dean at a Tea Party event in Kansas.

Bachmann also continues to lend her support - including headlining a fundraiser in May -- to the Minnesota Family Council, an anti-gay group that she worked closely with when leading the marriage amendment effort in the state legislature. The MFC has been on the front-lines of the effort to stop numerous gay rights bills in Minnesota, and is active in a renewed push for a marriage amendment. The group backs up its efforts with vicious anti-gay rhetoric. Its president, Tim Prichard, has compared homosexuality to cigarette smoking and has said that comprehensive sex ed in schools would promote "homosexual behavior, anal or oral sex, things like that." Prichard blamed the suicides of four LGBT students on Gay-Straight Alliances and "homosexual indoctrination." The group has been a leading player in the Religious Right's campaign against anti-bullying policies in schools.

And then there was Bachmann's $9,000 donation to a Minnesota group credited with performing "exorcisms" on gay teens. She also remains closely allied with Generation Joshua, a far-right anti-gay group that funnels conservative homeschoolers into right-wing politics, which has dispatched kids to help with her congressional campaigns.

Bachmann has carried the flag of her extremist Minnesota allies to Congress, where in positioning herself as a leader of the Tea Party she loudly embraced the fiscal-issues Right while continuing to feed the social-issues Right.

In an illustration of both sides of the conservative movement merging in the Tea Party, Bachmann invited right-wing pseudo historian David Barton, who believes that Jesus opposed the minimum wage and the progressive income tax - and who Bachmann calls a "national treasure" -- to speak to Congress about the Constitution. Like Barton, Bachmann deftly frames the anti-tax, pro-corporate ideology of fiscal conservatives in the moral language of social conservatives. At a Religious Right conference last month, she called the national debt an "immoral burden on future generations" and lamented that "many are discouraged from marriage by an underperforming economy." She is also fond of invoking the Founding Fathers to make her point about any number of issues, once even advocating reducing the federal government to its "original size." And in a classic Barton technique, she hasn't been above using a totally made-up George Washington quote to bash President Obama.

Bachmann's efforts to merge the small government crowd with the big-government-in-personal-life crowd were again on full display this weekend, as she praised New York's marriage equality vote as an example of states' rights, while continuing to advocate a constitutional amendment that would take away the right of states to expand marriage equality.

Bachmann illustrates the odd brew that has created the Tea Party - the energy of social conservatives papered over with the money of pro-corporate conservatives, mixed up with a new rhetoric that combines the two issues. Her ability to be at home in both worlds makes her an unexpected powerhouse of a candidate...but one whose prominence should continue to be troubling to the American people.

PFAW

Menendez Introduces Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill

Senator Robert Menendez, along with Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senators Richard Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Charles Schumer, and John Kerry, today introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011. The bill creates a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who must meet strict requirements before waiting in line to become legal residents. The bill also addresses the continuing need for effective border security. Most notably, this bill includes the provisions for LGBT families outlined in the Uniting American Families Act, as well as the DREAM Act and AgJOBS. Here at PFAW, we’re very pleased to see such inclusive legislation being introduced.

America is a nation of immigrants, and our country’s history would be unfathomable without the men and women who have come here from all around the world. Comprehensive immigration reform will help the economy and create greater fairness and equality in our deeply flawed immigration system. We applaud these senators for their leadership in seeking to create a comprehensive and fair immigration policy. When addressing undocumented immigrants, the best thing our nation can do is to implement a stable path to legal citizenship, with equal opportunity for all, and that’s precisely what this bill does.

PFAW

Huntsman Backer Seeks Gay Money with False Claim on Civil Unions

PFAW President Michael Keegan's recent Huffington Post commentary pointed out that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, the latest to throw his hat in the GOP presidential ring, is more conservative than his media-generated image as a moderate. Here’s more evidence supporting Keegan’s claim that Huntsman’s campaign strategy is to try to be all things to all people: Huntsman supporters are making a big play for campaign contributions from LGBT donors -- but they aren't telling the truth about his record. 

According to Politico, California Log Cabin Republican official Charles T. Moran has sent a fundraising email that makes this claim:“Governor Huntsman signed into law Utah’s first Civil Unions legislation – a politically courageous move on his part given that state’s politics.”

That claim is simply false.  It is true that in 2009, Huntsman declared his support for civil unions, five years after he backed a state constitutional amendment that bans marriage and forbids recognition of any "other domestic union" that has the "same or substantially equivalent legal effect" as marriage. But civil unions never became law in Utah.

In 2008, Huntsman did sign a law, SB 299, that allowed local governments to have something like a domestic partnership registry as long as they did not describe it as a domestic partnership registry. That’s a far cry from a state civil unions law, which is still prohibited by a constitutional amendment that Huntsman supported.

PFAW

Vermont teenager uses One Voice to make it better

Last week, Brian and I met a Vermont teenager named Josh Klein.

My name is Josh Klein, and I am 14 years old. I am not a bully, and I have never been bullied, but I have seen kids get beat up and picked on, and it needs to stop. I made a movie that I hope will help create social change by changing peoples’ attitudes and behaviors regarding gay bullying. I became interested in this topic because of all the news stories lately about gay teenagers killing themselves. No one should ever feel so desperate that he takes his own life.

In the short film I wrote, a bully picks on a gay student. When the movie begins, the bully is making fun of a thirteen-year-old boy at his school. Similar to the famous story A Christmas Carol, when the bully goes to sleep that night, he is visited by a ghost who tells him that before the night is over, he will be visited by two other ghosts. The film itself will have to tell the rest of the story.

Josh’s short film, One Voice, has recently made its DC and Vermont debuts and will officially premiere in Los Angeles later this summer.

Meeting Josh and watching his film reminded me of the Make It Better Project, a safe schools action campaign organized by the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Network and endorsed by dozens of LGBT equality advocates. Make It Better Project has two new initiatives to keep everyone engaged this summer.

Make It Better Summer Camp(aign): Hold local groups or parties to participate in an online activist camp(aign) to keep youth engaged over the summer and inspire them to make it better come the fall! Students should be able to take more than the summer off from bullying. Through weekly online camp sessions, the Make It Better Summer Camp(aign) will connect LGBT and allied youth across the country and empower them to make it better when they head back to school.

Write A Letter, Make It Better: Were you ever a youth? You have the power to Make It Better. Write a letter to your high school or middle school’s current principal and describe how LGBT youth were treated when you attended. Let them know what a principal’s support or intervention would have meant for you or your LGBT classmates. Simply share your story, and you can make it better for today’s students – whether you graduated last year or 30 years ago! This is a great way to engage your community members and donors who might want to take action but don’t know how to help.

Like Josh, we all need to do our part to ensure that students feel safe and secure when they enter the schoolhouse doors. The time to act is now.

PFAW

Department of Education takes another stand for LGBT youth

In October and December of 2010, the Department of Education took a stand for LGBT youth by issuing guidance to address bullying in schools, especially as it relates to federal education anti-discrimination laws. One of those laws, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. While the language does not specify sexual orientation and gender identity, the Department has made clear that harassment on these grounds, under certain circumstances, violates Title IX.

Yesterday, the Department of Education released new guidance, this time focusing on the right of students under the Equal Access Act to form extracurricular clubs, including gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

Secretary Arne Duncan:

Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and similar student-initiated groups addressing LGBT issues can play an important role in promoting safer schools and creating more welcoming learning environments. Nationwide, students are forming these groups in part to combat bullying and harassment of LGBT students and to promote understanding and respect in the school community. Although the efforts of these groups focus primarily on the needs of LGBT students, students who have LGBT family members and friends, and students who are perceived to be LGBT, messages of respect, tolerance, and inclusion benefit all our students. By encouraging dialogue and providing supportive resources, these groups can help make schools safe and affirming environments for everyone.

[ . . . ]

It is important to remember, therefore, that the Equal Access Act’s requirements are a bare legal minimum. I invite and encourage you to go beyond what the law requires in order to increase students’ sense of belonging in the school and to help students, teachers, and parents recognize the core values behind our principles of free speech.

The announcement was met with strong support across the safe schools community.

Eliza Byard, Executive Director, Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network:

Secretary Duncan's Dear Colleague letter is a clear signal to schools and school districts that they may not discriminate against students who seek to form Gay-Straight Alliances. We are grateful to the Department of Education for supporting students' rights, attempting to prevent discrimination and affirming the positive contributions Gay-Straight Alliances make to the life of our schools, right alongside other non-curricular clubs.

Laura Murphy, Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

Gay-straight alliances can play a crucial role in improving students’ lives. Just as with other extra-curricular groups and clubs, students have a federal legal right to form GSAs. Our public schools should be promoting fairness and acceptance, not discrimination.

Human Rights Campaign:

Gay-Straight Alliances are powerful forces in our schools. Not only do they offer a safe and supportive environment for LGBT students but they allow straight allies to show their support. One of the most powerful impacts that a GSA can have, however, is on those students who aren't even members - the very existence of a GSA shows students who may still be coming to terms with their orientations that someone at their school cares.

PFAW agrees that every student, LGBT or not, has the right to be educated in the same way, including equal access to extracurricular clubs. Click here and here for more information.

PFAW

Major League Sports Teams to Make “It Gets Better” Videos

Last week, the San Francisco Giants became the first major league sports team to make a video for the It Gets Better Project, and already, other teams are following suit. 35-year-old Sean Chapin, tired of hearing all the negative press about Kobe Bryant’s anti-gay slur, started a Change.org petition asking the Californian baseball team to send out some positive messages to the LGBT community.

Soon after the Giants’ video was released, 12-year-old Sam Maden started his own Change.org petition asking his favorite baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, to do likewise. Within a few days, his petition had over 10,000 signatures, and the Red Sox agreed to make the video. The Chicago Cubs have also announced plans to make an It Gets Better video, and countless other sports teams have Change.org petitions demanding them to join the movement. It started out primarily with MLB teams, but these petitions are no longer limited just to baseball, nor just to American teams. The Cincinnati Bengals (NFL), Oklahoma City Thunder (NBA), and even Manchester United (UEFA) are among the many teams whose fans are asking them to make It Gets Better videos. People for the American Way applauds the sports teams participating in the It Gets Better Project, as well as the thousands of fans urging their teams to step up to the plate and publicly speak out against anti-gay bullying.

PFAW

Tennessee: Front and Center on Anti-Gay Legislation

Tennessee really seems to be going down the rabbit hole with their recent anti-gay legislation. Last month, a bill advanced to their state Senate, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would prohibit educators from discussing any sexual orientation other than heterosexuality with students in kindergarten through eighth grade. This not only applies to lessons in classrooms, but to all discussions between educators and students. Any acknowledgement that gay people exist is officially prohibited, a cruel effort to isolate and declare as abnormal any children who are gay or who have gay family members (including parents).

This week, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill prohibiting local governments from enacting anti-discrimination laws that are stricter than those in state law. This new law overturns the recent Nashville Metro Council ordinance requiring businesses contracting with the city to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Tennessee state law prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin, but that leaves out a number of groups who are still facing discrimination with no legal support.

Haslam told a reporter, "We're not in favor of discrimination in any form at all," but actions speak louder than words, and Haslam’s support of this legislation certainly screams out loud and clear.

Nashville attorney Abby Rubenfeld is currently putting together a lawsuit to fight this legislation. She notes that the bill is homophobic and targeted at LGBT workers, but it would also affect veterans, disabled people, and other groups that aren’t protected by the state anti-discrimination law.

PFAW

Harry Jackson Says MLK Would Oppose Marriage Equality

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the House Armed Services Committee Authorization bill, which included three amendments designed to delay the repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

With the Senate taking up the bill, Rep. Randy Forbes, along with Bishop Harry Jackson and a group of right-wing pastors, held a press conference to encourage the Senate to pass the pro-DADT amendments.

Attempting to seem semi-reasonable, Jackson began the conference by claiming that amendments intending to make the repeal of DADT more difficult and time-consuming weren’t about DADT itself, but instead about “clarity.”

That line of reasoning lasted all of 15 minutes. By the time Q&A rolled around, Jackson and the Religious Right figures that had joined him used all of the same tired arguments that have been used against DADT in the past. When asked if the repeal of DADT would hurt recruitment, Bishop John Neal claimed that he wasn’t sure, but what he was really worried about was the “close quarters” that soldiers have to share, and what would happen when there was “only one spout” on the shower.

This again?

Multiple speakers claimed that “no one should be marginalized for their religious beliefs,” but they all seem to believe that marginalizing people for their sexual orientation is perfectly acceptable. One of the speakers, John Neil, went so far as to claim that the military discriminates all the time, by not allowing, for example, extraordinarily tall people to pilot cramped fighter jets. Because that’s exactly the same situation.

Despite their claims to be promoting the rights of chaplains, this group showed that their real goal was restricting the rights of the LGBT community, going so far as to assert that Martin Luther King Jr. would disapprove of same-sex marriage:


 

Jackson: There were members of his family who were for gay marriage, others were against. I know this: King basically spoke from two vantage points that he thought were very, very sacred within the American culture - one was the Bible and the other was the Constitution. And I think what we're dealing with here is that from a biblical perspective, King no doubt would have been with us biblically. And I think, again, the lines of what is exactly the right of an American to do, I've got a hard time believing that "the pursuit of happiness" crosses into some of these areas. So I think that King would be with us, as a preacher first.

Question: Just to clarify: you're saying Dr. King would be against gay marriage?

Jackson: Yes. Very specifically, yes. Because it's against what is clearly written in Scripture. And if you listen to any of his messages, that clarion call to scriptural accountability even to the point when his own house was firebombed and folks came up in Montgomery armed and ready to go fight folks, he said "no, no, no, we will turn the other cheek." So there was not just a tacit biblical acceptance or kind of whitewashing, if I can use that phrase, certain kinds of behaviors and say this is Christian, this is not. I think there was an inherent commitment to those issues in our social culture.
PFAW

Newt and Mitt, Running from Their Pasts

Probable GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are both doing damage control today the disclosure of shocking past brushes with non-extremism.

Romney, who has come under fire from his fellow Republicans for shepherding through a universal health care plan when he was governor of Massachusetts, has been shying away from his pro-health care past, and today wrote an op-ed rolling out a plan that wrests control of health care regulations away from the federal government. Unfortunately for Romney’s attempt to remake himself as a Tea Party Republican, a liberal Massachusetts group chose today to dig up the former governor’s former support for a national health care plan that included an individual insurance mandate – the very part of health care reform that the Tea Party despises the most.

Then there’s Gingrich, who will be announcing his presidential candidacy tomorrow, who is coming under fire from a right-wing group for his previous acknowledgement of climate change and support for being kind to the environment. (Here he is advocating for the cause with Nancy Pelosi). While far-right leaders seem to be ready to forgive Gingrich for his history of marital infidelity, his history of tree-hugging may be a bridge too far.

As the GOP’s potential presidential candidates rush to endear themselves to leaders of the fringe right, we can expect to see a lot more instances of candidates disowning their previous brushes with centrism.
 

PFAW

A Reminder of the Mendacity of the Bush Administration

The Washington Blade is reporting on a seemingly frivolous lawsuit launched by a former high-level Bush Administration official that tells us a lot about anti-LGBT zealotry and the mendacity of the previous administration. It involves RICO, the federal racketeering statute.

Scott Bloch was President Bush's choice to lead the Office of Special Counsel, the agency designated to protect federal employees from illegal discrimination and to ensure whistleblower protection. During Bush's first term, he ordered the removal of all information on filing complaints of sexual-orientation discrimination from OSC's website and brochures. And he didn't exactly protect whistleblowers in his own office. As reported by Talking Points Memo back in 2007:

Bloch himself has been under investigation since 2005 for a variety of infractions, including retaliating against employees who took issue with internal policies and discriminating against those who were gay or members of religious minorities. At the direction of the White House, the Office of Personnel Management's inspector general has been pressing on with an investigation of Bloch.

During the investigation, Bloch bypassed OSC's tech staff and hired "Geeks On Call" to scrub his office computer files. He was finally removed from office in the final year of the Bush Administration. Last year, he pleaded guilty to contempt of Congress for hiding the computer caper from a House committee.

Now, according to the Blade, Bloch is going after the gays and his former Republican colleagues:

Two gay Obama administration officials and the Human Rights Campaign were lumped in as defendants with former Bush administration operative Karl Rove and more than a dozen others in a federal racketeering lawsuit filed by anti-gay Bush official Scott Bloch.

[The lawsuit] charges the defendants – including former GOP Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia – with conspiring to force Bloch out of his job as head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel through a trumped up criminal investigation, according to Courthouse News Service, which first broke the story. ...

One of the Obama officials being sued is Elaine Kaplan, who ran OSC during the Clinton Administration.

In his lawsuit, Bloch alleges that the Bush White House demanded that he back off from reversing Kaplan's polices at the Office of Special Counsel, saying White House aides threatened to arrange for his dismissal if he failed to comply with their request.

Bloch and his wife, who are representing themselves in the case, filed their suit under a federal statute called the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. The statute allows both criminal and civil charges to be brought in cases where the government or a private party alleges that others conspired to commit an illegal act or to damage a person or a business through a "criminal enterprise."

Other parties named as defendants in the lawsuit include the Executive Office of the President, the Office of Special Counsel, the National Treasury Employees Union, and several government watchdog groups, including the Government Accountability Project.

Bloch and his wife are representing themselves against this giant conspiracy. One has to wonder if the reason Bloch is representing himself is because no other lawyer could be paid to take it.

Bloch makes up in zealotry what he seems to lack in competence, and he is the person Bush chose to head of the Office of Special Counsel. Despite his disregarding of the law in order to hurt gays and strike back at whistleblowers, the White House kept him on. It was only after the FBI investigation and the embarrassing computer episode became public that he was removed from office. That says everything you need to know about the Bush Administration and its commitment to the rule of law.

PFAW

The House GOP's Aboogaboogaboogabooga Constitution

For the past few decades, Republicans have aggressively and notoriously acted as if only they love the flag, only they appreciate families, only they are religious, and only they care about national defense. In the past couple of years, inspired by the Tea Party, they've added a new object to which they falsely lay sole claim: the United States Constitution.

Of course, for many of them, it's little more than a fetish. After all, the Republican Party's Constitution has long denied the right to abortion (and, in many cases, the right to privacy altogether), denied church-state separation, denied the right to vote, and denied equality under the law for LGBT people. The Tea Party's version of the Constitution is even more removed from the real thing, as analyzed in a recent PFAW report, Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party's Really Serving America.

So it's no surprise that House Republicans' latest effort to lay claim to the Constitution – requiring bill sponsors to submit statements specifying the constitutional authority for their legislation – has turned out to be meaningless. As reported by Congressional Quarterly (subscription required):

During a Feb. 11 subcommittee markup on a bill (HR 358) offered by Joe Pitts, R-Pa., to prohibit federal funds from being used to pay for health insurance that covers abortion, New York Democrat Anthony Weiner offered a point of order against the legislation on grounds that its "statement of constitutional authority" does not point to any specific authority for Congress to take such action.

The bill's statement says: "The Protect Life Act would overturn an unconstitutional mandate regarding abortion in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," last year's health care overhaul.

The markup soon became chaotic as lawmakers clashed for nearly an hour over whether the statement passed muster, and whether the Republicans were flouting their own rule. "The rules are the rules, and the Constitution is the Constitution," Weiner exclaimed.

Eventually, Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., consulted the Rules Committee, which in January issued a handy guide to complying with the new rule. The Rules Committee provided guidance on how statements of constitutional authority might be phrased, but said the only requirement is that a statement be submitted.

"The question of whether the statement is sufficient is a matter for debate and a factor that a member may consider when deciding whether to support the measure," Upton said.

The committee's top Democrat, Henry A. Waxman of California, called that “a mockery” of the rules. "The ruling is that it doesn't make any difference what you say,” he said. “You could say, 'Aboogaboogaboogabooga!' and that's enough to justify the constitutionality of the proposal."

The Constitution that established a careful separation of powers, an independent court system, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the eradication of slavery, and equality for all is far too precious a document to become just a symbol in meaningless political posturing. Shame on the House Republicans.

PFAW

Another Step Forward for LGBT Equality

In a step forward for LGBT equality, the Obama Administration's new hospital visitation regulations go into effect today. Under the rules, hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid can no longer deny visitation privileges based on factors including sexual orientation or gender identity. To forcibly separate loving couples when one of them is sick or even dying is cruel and wrong.

The Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement writes:

This significant policy change is due in no small part to the journeys of two incredibly courageous and passionate women, Janice Langbehn and Charlene Strong. Both lived through unimaginable experiences with the loss of their wives and life partners. While I never had the opportunity to meet Janice's wife Lisa Pond, or Charlene's wife Kate Fleming, I have had the honor to meet and work with Janice and Charlene. I want to thank them for bringing us all into their lives and for sharing themselves and their families with us, and for using their voices to make lives better for LGBT families.

To have a White House publication referring to "Janice's wife Lisa" or "Charlene's wife Kate" is no small indication of societal change. Words have power, and the more people get used to hearing juxtapositions like these, the less alien the idea becomes.

PFAW

Witnessing History: the President Signs Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal

Earlier this morning I had the privilege of attending the signing ceremony for the bill repealing the infamous Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military service policy. It was an incredibly moving experience. This is a watershed moment for the cause of LGBT equality – there is absolutely no turning back from the march we are on for full equality for LGBT individuals. Or, as Rep. Barney Frank said at yesterday’s enrollment ceremony at which Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally sent the bill to the President for his signature: For those on the Right worried about the so-called radical homosexual agenda - two down and two to go!!

There was much joy and celebration in the room, and also a sense of gravitas at being witness to this historic moment. There is much more to accomplish, but for now, it feels great to savor this win for justice and equality. And to salute all of the heroes who never gave up on this important battle.

PFAW

Speaker Pelosi sends DADT repeal to President Obama

People For the American Way attended today’s enrollment ceremony for the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal bill. Representatives and Senators stood alongside those discharged under this discriminatory policy to formally send the bill to President Obama for his signing. Each should be commended for their dedication to this cause, especially Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA8), a veteran himself and the lead House sponsor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. From CNN:

Earlier, Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania told the gathering of an e-mail he received from a company commander in Afghanistan, who mentioned how he often had to counsel soldiers who received divorce papers or "Dear John" letters from spouses or opposite-sex partners.

Murphy continued: "This young company commander, this captain, on his fourth deployment, wrote in that e-mail saying, 'I never thought I'd see the day when I got one of those letters myself. And I'm sitting here at three o'clock in the morning in Kabul, Afghanistan, and I have no where to go because I happen to be gay, and I can't walk to the chaplain, and I can't go to a battle buddy, and I can't walk to my commander's office, so I'm sitting here cradling my 9 mm pistol thinking about blowing my brains out. But I read this article about this Iraq war veteran named Patrick Murphy from Pennsylvania that's fighting for me, and it gives me hope.'"

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD5) had this to say about the American promise of equality for all.

Perhaps the most memorable sound bites came from, as they often do, Representative Barney Frank (D-MA4).

This one, in particular.

For those who are worried about the radial homosexual agenda, let me put them on notice – two down, two to go.

Representative Frank’s message is simple.

LGBT equality advocates aren’t working some nefarious plot. What the Right labels as radical isn’t radical at all. It’s about fairness, freedom, and the Constitution. It’s about core values and fundamental rights that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, hold dear and should enjoy.

PFAW

White House staff: It gets better

In recent months I’ve written about various contributions to the It Gets Better Project. Dan and Terry. Ellen DeGeneres. President Obama. Secretary Clinton. Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. Yesterday brought a video from White House staff members.

The video’s release notes:

Inspired by President Obama’s It Gets Better video, several LGBT White House staffers decided to add their voices to the project. President Obama has more LGBT appointees than any previous administration and he is committed to making his administration reflect the diversity of our nation.

I also just came across a page that collects It Gets Better videos produced by the Obama Administration. Some I’d seen. Some I hadn’t. Check it out!

PFAW agrees that every student, LGBT or not, has the right to be educated in the same way. Click here for more information.

PFAW

Justice Department, Civil Rights Division: It gets better

In recent months I’ve written about various contributions to the It Gets Better Project. Dan and Terry. Ellen DeGeneres. President Obama. Secretary Clinton. Today brought a video from the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.

As you can see:

The Civil Rights Division, and the entire Justice Department, is committed to ending bullying and harassment in schools, and the video highlights the Department’s authority to enforce federal laws that protect students from discrimination and harassment at school because of their race, national origin, disability, religion, and sex, including harassment based on nonconformity with gender stereotypes. The video also features Division employees who share their individual stories and personal messages that a better future awaits youth who may be experiencing bullying or harassment.

PFAW agrees that every student, LGBT or not, has the right to be educated in the same way. Click here for more information.

PFAW

Illinois sends civil union bill to Governor Quinn

In a 61-52 vote on November 30, the Illinois House approved the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. The Senate followed suit on December 1 with a 32-24 vote. The bill would make civil unions available to Illinoisans as of July 1 of next year.

Equality Illinois celebrated the victory.

On that date, thousands of same-sex couples in Illinois will have access to protections that were previously denied to them, such as emergency medical decision-making, hospital visitation, inheritance rights, and others.  This is a historic moment for our State, and we would not have been able to get here without the extraordinary leadership of the bill's chief sponsors, State Representative Greg Harris and State Senator David Koehler.  Many of our partner organizations and community leaders devoted endless energy to helping pass this bill.  Clergy all around Illinois educated their congregations and even prayed for elected officials to understand the urgency of the protection that civil unions offers.  And our supporters from every corner of the State participated by contacting lawmakers, canvassing, phone banking, writing letters, and making contributions.  This is your victory too.

Governor Quinn has pledged to sign it into law.

Quinn has been an outspoken supporter of the bill, which was co-sponsored by state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, one of two openly gay state legislators. During the recent election, Quinn gambled his political career on the legislation by vowing to pass it and sign it into law. He defeated state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, a staunch conservative, by less than 20,000 votes.

"It's always the right time to do the right thing,"; Quinn said paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr. during a press conference, when asked to address criticism that the state's large debt and high jobless rate should take precedence over social issues.

"My conscience is not kicking me in the shins today," he said. "I believe I did the right thing for the people of Illinois and all those who live in Illinois."

The action in Illinois is an important step forward in the fight for equitable relationship recognition. PFAW welcomes this step but notes that civil unions are no substitute for marriage. Marriage is a state institution recognized in every state, across state lines, and at the federal level. Civil unions are exclusively state-based. Like domestic partnerships, they provide some state benefits, but they are not portable from state-to-state, and they receive no federal recognition. In addition, the separate status of “civil unions” stigmatizes lesbian and gay families as unworthy of perhaps the most basic foundation of our society.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has produced maps that show the successes thus far and the challenges moving forward.

We have won the battle, but we have not yet won the war.

PFAW

Desperate GOP Now Attacks DADT Report

With top leaders of the military and the majority of Americans all calling for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Right is desperately trying to find ways to maintain the ban on gays from serving openly.

After months of emphasizing the need to wait for the Pentagon’s comprehensive report on the impact of allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly in the armed forces, now conservative opponents of repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) have dismissed the report altogether. The Right’s rejection of the Pentagon study is not surprising since the report found that repealing DADT won’t have negative consequences on military effectiveness or cohesion, and that the vast majority of soldiers do not oppose its repeal. According to the report, “69 percent of respondents believe they have already served alongside a gay person” and among “those who believed that, 92 percent said their units were able to work together and 8 percent said the units functioned poorly as a result.”

But the support for repealing DADT by military leaders, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and most Americans can’t overcome the doggedly anti-gay and anti-equality views of many conservative politicians and groups. Instead of considering and evaluating the clear and unequivocal conclusions of the Pentagon study, defenders of DADT decided to target the report itself: rather than studying and assessing the impact on military cohesion and effectiveness, many Republicans say, the report should have been a referendum on the policy.

John McCain, the Senate GOP’s point person on opposition to repealing DADT, essentially asked for an unprecedented referendum to see if the policy should be repealed or not:

“How best are you going to assess the effect on morale and battle effectiveness and retention unless you consult and find out what the view of the troops is?” McCain said in a brief interview on Monday.



"It is not part of the working group's mandate to ask service members the broad question of whether they think DADT should be repealed, which, in effect, would amount to a referendum," Gates said in an October letter to McCain. "I do not believe that military policy decisions ... should be made through a referendum of service members."

McCain went on to attack Gates as a “political appointee who’s never been in the military,” even though Gates is a veteran of the US Air Force and also served in the CIA.

McCain’s support for what would effectively be a referendum also contradicts his previous claim that military leaders should be the ones deciding the future of DADT, telling Chris Matthews: “the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says ‘Senator we ought to change the policy,’ then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to.”

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham sent a similar message, saying that the troops should participate in a referendum on the policy decision:

Graham, who opposes repeal of the ban on gays in uniform, agreed with McCain that the survey “asked the wrong question” of the troops. “The question that needs to be asked of our military is: Do you support repeal? Not how do you repeal, how do you implement repeal,” Graham said.

The Family Research Council also rejected the report outright because it wasn’t a referendum on DADT in a statement:

“Media reports to the effect that a majority of servicemembers ‘would not have a problem’ with homosexuals in the military overlook the fact that the surveys did not ask whether respondents support repeal of the current law. If most servicemembers say that under a different policy, they would continue to attempt to do their job in a professional manner, that is only what we would expect. This does not mean that a new policy would not undermine the overall effectiveness of the force. And if even a small percentage of our armed forces would choose not to re-enlist, or part of the public would choose not to serve in the first place, the impact on the military would be catastrophic.”

Frank Gaffney of the right-wing Center for Security Policy also commented that asking service members’ opinions of serving with openly gay and lesbian members was not enough, and that they should have been polled on DADT itself:

The question occurs: How many of our servicemen and -women will decide they don't want to submit to a "zero-tolerance" enforcement of the new homosexual-friendly regulations that will be promulgated if the present statute proscribing LGBT service is repealed?

Don't expect an answer from the Pentagon "study" that will be released with much fanfare next week - after more than a fortnight of misleading leaks and pre-publication spin. After all, questions Congress expected to have answered about whether folks in uniform would support the law's repeal and, if it occurs, whether they would leave the military were not even asked. We can only infer the answers from questions that were asked, notably about how problematic implementation would be.

With little left to stand on, the Right’s new demand that the repeal of DADT be determined by a poll of the troops, rather than a decision by military and legislative leaders, only demonstrates the desperation of their attacks. Judging by their reaction to the comprehensive report, it is doubtful that they would even accept the results of a hypothetical and unprecedented poll of the troops if it doesn’t conform to their staunchly anti-gay beliefs.

PFAW

Just as Shepard’s legacy lives on, our work continues

On October 7, 1998, Aaron Kreifels found Matthew Shepard clinging to life in a field outside Laramie, Wyoming. Unfortunately, Shepard lost that battle five days later. What resulted was a rallying cry for the LGBT equality movement.

One of the most enduring voices in the years since has been The Laramie Project, a play produced by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project based on interviews conducted in the aftermath of Shepard’s death. I’ll never forget my own experience with The Laramie Project, and the emotion that overcame one of my friends in the audience. He was struck by the fact that Laramie wasn’t so different from his hometown. What happened there could have happened in his backyard. It could happen just about anywhere without people and a government willing to stand up to fear and hate.

Now comes The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. There’s a point at which the story turns to current students at the University of Wyoming. They don’t know who Shepard was. Or they choose to believe rumors. Or it simply doesn’t affect them. And we’re told several times throughout that the fence on which Shepard clung to life no longer exists, broken up into pieces and lost forever. As generations pass and the physical signs fade, it’s ever more important that we openly and honestly talk about Shepard and what happened to him – not just the attack, but what we can learn from his life and death and the very real ways in which they impact our own lives.

In the very meeting where I found out that the show was in town, we were discussing what is being done and what more might be needed to address bullying in schools. We also discussed the federal hate crime law that bears Shepard’s name. And just today the FBI released its 2009 hate crime statistics.

Just as Shepard’s legacy lives on, our work continues.

PFAW