LGBT

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

Standing together for schools that are safe and free of discrimination

Last Thursday I attended a press conference convened on Capitol Hill in support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Nondiscrimination Act. It was a diverse mix of speakers. Representatives Linda Sánchez and Jared Polis and Senators Robert Casey and Al Franken showed their support as our legislative champions. Clay Aiken (American Idol) and Louis Van Amstel (Dancing with the Stars) talked about using their star power to advance the cause. Dr. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and Dr. Cathy Minke, President of the National Association of School Psychologists, shared the work they do everyday as advocates and practitioners. Then there were the people for whom this issue hits closest to home: Sirdeaner Walker, mother of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover; Tammy Aaberg, mother of Justin Aaberg; and Joey Kemmerling, a 16-year-old gay student from Bucks County, PA.

Something Dr. Byard said really stuck with me.

This is an issue of behavior, not belief.

Ensuring that schools are safe, as does the Safe Schools Improvement Act, and free of discrimination, as does the Student Nondiscrimination Act, isn’t about sexual orientation and gender identity, or how you might feel about LGBT issues being raised in schools. This is about stopping abhorrent behavior that prevents victimized students from accessing the quality education they need and deserve. Every student, LGBT or not, has the right to be educated in the same way.

Click here for more information, and be sure to take a look at this video posted by Senator Franken.

 

PFAW

Supreme Court Lets DADT Enforcement Continue

The Supreme Court today declined to reverse a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that let the military continue to discriminate against gay and lesbian servicemembers while the legal battle against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell continues. The ban on openly gay Americans serving in the military was stopped temporarily after a federal judge in California ruled the policy unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit demanded that enforcement continue while the case makes its way through the court system.

The high court’s decision makes it even more urgent for Congress to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell during this years's lame duck session. With a strong Republican majority in the House next year—including many new members who are not at all open to LGBT equality—there will be little hope for legislative repeal.

In the meantime, the vast majority of Americans, across party lines, continue to oppose Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. One of these Americans is Cindy McCain, whose husband John McCain is the leading the Senate effort to keep the discriminatory policy in place. Watch the video Cindy McCain made for the anti-bullying group NO H8, in which she slams Dont Ask Dont Tell: "Our government treats the LGBT community like second class citizens, why shouldn't [bullies]?"
 

PFAW

Department of Education takes a stand for LGBT youth

October 28 marked the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. I recently wrote about how honoring Matthew is part of Making It Better. Not only must we make sure that the law bearing his name is effectively implemented, but we must also ensure school safety for LGBT youth – a fact not lost on the Department of Education.

The Department’s Office for Civil Rights has issued 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.

Although Title IX does not prohibit discrimination based solely on sexual orientation, Title IX does protect all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, from sex discrimination. When students are subjected to harassment on the basis of their LGBT status, they may also [. . .] be subjected to forms of sex discrimination prohibited under Title IX. The fact that the harassment includes anti-LGBT comments or is partly based on the target’s actual or perceived sexual orientation does not relieve a school of its obligation under Title IX to investigate and remedy overlapping sexual harassment or gender-based harassment. [. . .] Had the school recognized the conduct as a form of sex discrimination, it could have employed the full range of sanctions (including progressive discipline) and remedies designed to eliminate the hostile environment.

Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, applauded the guidance.

The Departments of Education and Justice are rightly focused on the plight of certain religious students and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students who may not be receiving the full protections from bullying and harassment that are their right. While additional, specific protections are still needed, I commend this Administration for doing all in its power to protect vulnerable students.

David Warren, Director of Education at the Anti-Defamation League, further noted the importance of the guidance.

Federal leadership on this important issue is critical to ensure that schools are safe places for all students, and that they help foster a culture in which bias and bullying are not tolerated. The guidelines will help community members work together to promote a civil and respectful environment for children, online as well as offline.

As did the Human Rights Campaign, who went on to describe next steps.

In order to fully protect LGBT young people, HRC continues to call on the administration to go beyond today’s interpretation of existing law and come out in support of two important pieces of legislation: the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. The Student Non-Discrimination Act would explicitly prohibit discrimination by schools against public school students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Safe Schools Improvement Act would require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
PFAW

Web Videos Show GOP Extremists In Their Own Words

People For the American Way has produced four new videos showing the extreme far-right views of four Republican candidates for US Senate: Ken Buck of Colorado; Rand Ron Johnson of Wisconsin; Paul of Kentucky, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. These candidates promise to bring their dangerous agenda into the US Senate, and our videos show the candidates in their own words revealing their radical views on topics such as civil rights, LGBT and gender equality, climate change, the economy, and Social Security. You can find more information about all of the GOP’s extreme candidates for US Senate in People For the American Way’s The Rogues’ Gallery.

Ken Buck

Ron Johnson

Rand Paul

Pat Toomey

PFAW

LGBT Community Speaks Out Against Gold’s Gym

Karl Rove’s Super PAC American Crossroads has received millions of dollars in funding from TRT Holdings and its owner, Robert Rowling. TRT Holdings under Rowling’s leadership owns the companies Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gym. TRT Holdings donated $2,341,000 to American Crossroads, and Rowling himself gave the pro-GOP group $2.5 million. As reported in After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics, American Crossroads and its sister group Crossroads GPS plan to spend well-over $50 million to elect Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Now, activist Michael Jones, through the online community Change.org, is calling on consumers to hold Gold’s Gym accountable for the company’s substantial donations to the pro-corporate, right-wing political organization.

After criticizing Target and Best Buy for contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Minnesota political organization that supports a staunchly anti-gay candidate for Governor, supporters of LGBT equality are now attacking Gold’s Gym and its parent company, TRT Holdings. Most of the candidates American Crossroads supports also have astoundingly anti-gay and anti-equality opinions and records.

Jones has launched a petition that calls out Gold’s Gym, which “markets and caters to LGBT customers,” for using money from their corporate accounts to effectively support candidates “who want to take away civil rights for LGBT Americans.” Jones writes:

Who would have thought that giving money to Gold's Gym could have such ugly consequences for the LGBT community?

Among the candidates that the owner of Gold's Gym is working to elect include Nevada GOP senate candidate Sharron Angle, who is challenging Sen. Harry Reid. Angle, you might recall, has previously said that women who are raped should turn their lemons into lemonade, and that LGBT people should be barred from adopting children. And that's only the tip of iceberg. In years past, Sharron Angle put her blessing behind an insert that went out to voters that said homosexuality would lead to the destruction of the United States, and called gay people "sodomites" and "perverts." She even endorsed a statement that said there was no evidence to suggest homosexuality was biological, and that scientists who argue otherwise are flawed.

Thanks, Gold's Gym!

But Sharron Angle isn't the only candidate that American Crossroads is supporting. There's also Rep. Roy Blunt in Missouri, who is currently running for an open U.S. Senate seat in the state. Blunt has a whopping 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign when it comes to legislation focused on the LGBT community, and has voted against the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and in favor of banning gay adoptions in Washington, D.C. And in his current campaign for U.S. Senate, he's made the preservation of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) a hot issue, suggesting that if he loses his race, DOMA will die and gay people will be allowed to get married all over the country. Ah, the horror!

Once again, thank you, Gold's Gym.

American Crossroads also supports Colorado’s Ken Buck, who said that homosexuality was a “choice…like alcoholism,” and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, who believes that gay and lesbian couples should not have the right to adopt children, among other anti-equality Republicans.

Now, four Gold’s Gyms in the San Francisco Bay Area just released a statement saying that they will leave the Gold’s Gym brand as a response to TRT Holding’s political donations.

In the end, corporations should not just face petitions from consumers to stop financing political groups, but should be restricted from spending money in elections in general. Nine in ten Americans want “clear limits on how much money corporations can spend to influence the outcome of an election,” and Gold’s Gym and other companies should know that the public does not want them using their money from their general treasuries to influence elections.

 

PFAW

President Obama and Secretary Clinton: It gets better

I’ve been writing a lot lately about the It Gets Better Project, the Make It Better Project, and the plight of LGBT youth in America. This week, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton added their voices.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made clear that LGBT youth, just like all students, should feel safe and secure when they enter the schoolhouse doors. Now we must make sure that the Administration recognizes the tremendous energy and focus it takes to change the end of this story.

I think Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, put it well.

Sustained federal leadership on these issues is absolutely essential to reassert the fundamental culture of respect that must prevail in our schools. We need the President’s clear endorsement of the vital principles embodied in the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act . . . As the current crisis tragically illustrates, far too many school districts have not taken the actions needed to protect all students. And the tenor of public debate in this country stands in the way of effective local action and finding common ground. At times like these, on the difficult issues that really matter, Presidential leadership is paramount . . . They need his words, delivered now in this message, and they also need his actions.

The time to act is now.

PFAW

Don’t forget to honor Matthew Shepard today by making it better

Last week, I wrote about Matthew Shepard and his mother Judy. Today, on the 12th anniversary of Matthew’s death, the Make It Better Project is urging Congress to support the Student Nondiscrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Please join them!

The recent suicides of several LGBT students across the country have highlighted the fact that anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools can have a dramatic and tragic effect on LGBT students, their families, and school communities.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act (H.R. 2262/S. 3739) and the Student Nondiscrimination Act (H.R. 4530/S. 3390) will help make the lives of LGBT youth better!

Call Members of Congress on Tuesday, October 12th and ask them to make sure they cosponsor both bills, H.R. 2262/S. 3739 and H.R. 4530/S. 3390!

Students - Share your story with Congress and tell them how these bills will make life better for you.

Adults - Tell Congress why this is important to you and how these bills will improve the lives of students.

Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected directly to your Members of Congress.

OR CLICK HERE to get talking points and automatically identify your Members of Congress, find their direct numbers.

Please click here for more information.

PFAW

Honor Matthew Shepard by making it better

These words have perhaps never been truer than they are right now.

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

I was reminded of the late Senator Kennedy’s famous quote as I happened upon this blog post this afternoon. Twelve years ago today, Aaron Kreifels found Matthew Shepard clinging to life in a field outside Laramie, Wyoming. Unfortunately, Shepard lost that battle five days later.

Shepard’s story quickly became a rallying cry for the LGBT equality movement, and has remained such to this day. Judy Shepard works tirelessly to help make the world a better place for LGBT individuals. She has spoken out on bullying and the recent suicides of LGBT youth.

Quite simply, we are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out against taunting, invasion of privacy, violence and discrimination against these youth by their peers, and asking everyone in a position of authority in their schools and communities to step forward and provide safe spaces and support services for LGBT youth or those who are simply targeted for discrimination because others assume they are gay. There can never be enough love and acceptance for these young people as they seek to live openly as their true selves and find their role in society.

Judy Shepard wants you to stand up and speak out. Dan Savage wants you to tell your story. And now the Gay-Straight Alliance Network wants you to make it better. The Make It Better Project is endorsed by dozens of LGBT equality advocates. They are taking action, including a week of action designed to draw attention to school safety for LGBT youth.

We aren’t waiting until high school is over for our lives to get better . . . We are taking action now!

Please click here for more information. You might also want to look back at my blog posts from 10/1/10 and 10/28/09.

PFAW

Santorum Slamming JFK, Secularism

Fifty years ago, the man who would become America’s first Catholic president delivered a historic speech that helped reduce anti-Catholic prejudice in our public life. Five decades later, a man who would like to be the nation’s second Catholic president celebrated the occasion by slamming Kennedy. It’s a remarkable reversal. 

Former Senator Rick Santorum has been using the anniversary of then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy’s famous address on church-state separation to decry the destructive forces of secularism that he says Kennedy unleashed. (People For the American Way is among Santorum’s targets.)
 
Santorum’s attack deserves attention, especially at a time when religious and political leaders, Santorum among them, are eagerly fanning the flames of religious intolerance. Much of Santorum’s recent speech – delivered in Houston on September 9 and reprised since then at events like Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom conference – is given over to repeated claims that Kennedy emboldened secularists who want a public square “cleansed of all religious wisdom and the voice of religious people of all faiths.” He says Kennedy’s speech launched a movement that is “repressing or banishing people of faith from having a say in government.”
 
These inflammatory claims are regularly advanced by Religious Right leaders who portray supporters of church-state separation as hostile to faith and religious liberty. But how can they be taken seriously?
 
Choose any topic that is being debated in the public square, and you’ll find people of faith advancing their values, probably on both sides of the issue – and not just on abortion and gay rights.  Religious Right activists spouted Tea Party arguments about the evils of government while progressive religious leaders worked hard to promote health care reform. The Catholic hierarchy is among the religious organizations working to deny gay couples legal recognition while other religious groups like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism are working for full marriage equality.  At the same time, the two groups are both lobbying for humane immigration reform.
 
It’s a complicated scene, and it’s a noisy one. Who has been silenced? Not Ralph Reed, who is bragging that he’s planning to mobilize conservative evangelical voters to turn Election Day into a historic rout for Democrats.  And certainly not conservative Catholics like Santorum.  At Reed’s Faith and Freedom conference, a panel included leaders of two groups organized to promote conservative Catholic values in the public arena – Catholic Advocate and Faithful Catholic Citizens.
 
There are situations that bring constitutional values into tension. America, via the Supreme Court and civil rights legislation, has decided (Rand Paul notwithstanding) that a business owner’s desire to discriminate against racial minorities does not trump other individuals’ right to equal access to public accommodations, even if the desire to discriminate was based on sincerely held religious beliefs.  Courts and legislatures are wrangling with similar situations that consider religious beliefs about homosexuality, abortion, and contraception alongside LGBT Americans’ right to legal equality, and all Americans’ access to medical care.
 
But the fact that some court cases have gone against those seeking a religious exemption to a generally applied law is no grounds for claiming that religious people have been silenced, or no longer have the right to make their case in the public square. What Santorum seems to want is a kind of double standard: religious conservatives can take part in public debate but should be shielded from criticism. They can engage in legal and political advocacy, but if they lose they can claim the process has been stacked against them by sinister anti-religious forces.
 
Santorum argues that the secularist forces unleashed by Kennedy threaten peaceful coexistence and even put American civilization at risk. He says the founders believed that “if they fostered religion and the Judeo-Christian moral code we would achieve something that was never before seen in a country with so many competing faiths - a truly tolerant, democratic and harmonious public square.”
 
But Santorum himself is actively undermining the possibility for a “tolerant, democratic and harmonious” public square. He seeks political gain by branding his opponents as enemies of religious liberty. And he has played a significant role in inflaming an ugly anti-Islamic wave of public opinion that has resulted in fatal violence and could leave communities damaged and divided for years.
 
Santorum portrays himself as heroic, telling audiences, “I have been criticized in the media for daring to speak out on these sensitive moral issues.”  That’s not true.  Santorum is criticized not for “daring to speak out” but for saying things many people disagree with. Santorum has every right to denigrate the loving relationships of same-sex couples by comparing them to man-on-dog sex. But just as surely others have the right to criticize and even ridicule him for those statements.  
 
The First Amendment is a two-way street. But that seems to be one truth that Santorum and his allies refuse to acknowledge.
PFAW

It gets better

It’s not often that a web site like Gawker makes me stop and think, but staff writer Brian Moylan did just that in a moving post about anti-gay bullying.

If we can't save these kids' lives, then all of our struggles for civil rights and marriage equality aren't worth anything.

Brian’s right. Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Health benefits and housing. Immigration rights. Relationship recognition. Marriage equality. If we don’t save the next generation, what we’re fighting for today won’t mean anything tomorrow.

These days we can’t seem to escape the stories of lives ruined, or even ended, by bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. Tyler Clementi has dominated the news this week. We’ve also heard about Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Billy Lucas, and Asher Brown. One death is too many. Five in such a short period of time is unconscionable. This must stop.

Columnist Dan Savage makes a simple plea to those who think they have nowhere to turn: It gets better.
 


 

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres has a similar message: Things will get easier. People’s minds will change. And you should be alive to see it.
 


 

LGBT youth, just like all students, should feel safe and secure when they enter the schoolhouse doors. We can change the end of this story.

For more information, please click here. And be sure to check out the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

PFAW

Menendez introduces LGBT-inclusive immigration reform

Senator Menendez has sent a strong message that same-sex couples and their families deserve equal rights under immigration law. On Wednesday, he joined with Senator Leahy to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill that is LGBT-inclusive. Both men support the Uniting American Families Act.

Immigration Equality Action Fund hailed this important step forward.

It is simply unconscionable that our immigration laws tear families apart . . . Senator Menendez’s legislation, which is a truly comprehensive bill, would provide LGBT families with important opportunities to keep their families together. The bill’s introduction is welcome news not just for lesbian and gay Americans, but also their extended families, their communities and our country. The Immigration Equality Action Fund is committed to working for its passage.

PFAW welcomes an immigration debate that provides equality to same-sex couples so that they can keep their families together. They need to be able to begin the immigration process more quickly and efficiently, and with fewer limitations. Gay men and lesbians whose partners are US citizens or legal permanent residents should have the right to apply for family-based visas and green cards.

As the 111th Congress draws to a close, and the 112th begins, we urge both the House and Senate to make inclusive reform a priority.

PFAW

Yesterday’s Big Wins for Young Progressive Candidates

Gustavo Rivera, a young progressive candidate endorsed by the PFAW Action Fund, won a big victory yesterday in a New York state senate district in the Bronx, ousting the current Senate Majority Leader in the Democratic primary. Rivera won a decisive victory over Pedro Espada, who threw the state senate into a dysfunctional mess last year when he briefly switched over to the Republican Party.

Rivera, 34, is a strong progressive—he’s pro-choice, supports marriage equality, and is a leader on ethics reform and fair wages. In a heavily Democratic district, he’s a solid bet to head to Albany next year, where he’ll bring some much-needed new ideas.

Several other PFAW Action Fund-endorsed candidates are also bringing a progressive agenda to November’s elections after making it through yesterday’s primaries. In New York, Clarkstown Town Clerk David Carlucci, who has focused his campaign on campaign finance and ethics reform became the Democratic nominee for an open state senate seat, and Aravella Simotas of Astoria, who is a staunch advocate of LGBT equality, health care access, and public education, also won a Democratic primary for a seat in the State Assembly.

In Maryland, eight PFAW Action Fund candidates won primaries, including Victor Ramirez, who ousted a less progressive incumbent incumbent in the race for a state senate seat in Prince George’s County. Judd Legum of Maryland—a progressive activist who founded the Center for American Progress’s Think Progress blog—won a spot as a Democratic nominee for a state House seat. He’ll face off against a Republican incumbent with a history of fighting marriage equality. In Bethesda, Ariana Kelly, a longtime advocate for equal pay, the right to choose, marriage equality, public education, and environmental conservation, won a competitive Democratic primary for a seat in the House of Delegates.

The PFAW Action fund supports progressive candidates under the age of 35.
 

PFAW