The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) has created a new legal guide, Freedom to Serve: The Definitive Guide to LGBT Military Service, to help navigate the laws and policies related to military service that will exist following the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). It is downloadable at www.sldn.org, the SLDN website which has been redesigned for the post-DADT environment. The guide and website cover SLDN’s legal services, and issues such as standards of conduct, benefits for spouses and families of service members, discharge upgrades, and veterans’ benefits.
SLDN Legal Director David McKean:
The information contained in this legal guide will help service members, prospective service members, their families, and friends make informed decisions about how to serve successfully as we move beyond ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ It will also assist them in understanding how to protect themselves when necessary and how to respond if they are targeted in any way for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
The new guidance will become effective on September 20 when the DADT repeal goes into effect. The clock is ticking.
Saturday was the 70th anniversary of President Roosevelt’s issuance of Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial discrimination by defense contractors. Last week, Congressman Bobby Scott hosted a press conference and briefing in honor of the anniversary of this event, which marked the first time a U.S. president had acted to combat discrimination by private employers who were using federal taxpayer money. Future presidents expanded on President Roosevelt’s action and added to its protections.
However, this was more than just a celebratory event of an important civil rights milestone: it was a call to action to correct an erosion of equal employment opportunity law that has been in effect since 2002. That’s when President Bush signed an Executive Order that made discrimination on the basis of religion by faith-based organizations using federal taxpayer money legal. In so doing, he reversed our nation’s continuous expansion of the promise of equal protection and opened a gaping hole in our nation’s civil rights protections. Religious entities had always been able to discriminate based on religion using their own money, but never to use taxpayer money to do so.
All the panelists were united in asking President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise of restoring the law. On the panel were: Congressman Bobby Scott (convener of the event); Congressman Jerrold Nadler; Professor Eric Arnesen (professor of history at George Washington University and biographer of civil rights and labor leader A. Philip Randolph, whose activism prompted FDR’s executive order); Rabbi David Saperstein (Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and also a board member of our affiliated People For the American Way Foundation); Barbara Arnwine (Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law); Hilary Shelton (Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau); and Rev. Dr. Paul L. Brown, Sr. (Pastor of Miles Memorial CME Church and member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action).
Among other things, speakers discussed how employment discrimination harms the victims and society as a whole; warned that religion can easily be used as a proxy for race, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity; condemned discrimination paid for by the tax dollars of its victims; asked why the religion of someone ladling out soup for the hungry should matter; and warned of the dangerous consequences to churches that want to retain federal funding they have become dependent on. As the last speaker, Rev. Dr. Brown opened a window into his daily work helping the hungry and the homeless, the “least and the lost,” and strongly condemned federally funded discrimination.
When he was running for President, then-Senator Obama promised to reverse President Bush’s policy, but he has yet to do so. What better time than the anniversary of the issuance of Executive Order 8802 for President Obama to put our nation back on the right road and restore through executive order the prohibition against federally funded discrimination? Yesterday, People For the American Way and African American Ministers In Action joined more than 50 other civil rights and religious organizations asking him to do just that.
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).
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.
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.
Following tweets and transcripts of this morning’s hearing in the Prop 8 case, I started to feel like I was reading a celebrity magazine written by lawyers.
The issue at stake in the hearing was whether now-retired Judge Vaughn Walker, who overturned Prop 8’s ban on gay marriage last year, should have recused himself from the marriage equality case because he himself is gay. Judge Walker’s sexual orientation was widely known at the time of the decision, and certainly didn’t escape the notice of right-wing critics of marriage equality, but lawyers defending Prop 8 decided not to bring it up at the time.
Then, after Walker handed down a powerful ruling against the anti-gay measure, they changed their minds. Perhaps sensing that they couldn’t argue that Judge Walker was disqualified from the case simply because he is gay, Prop 8’s backers instead decided to argue that the judge should have recused himself because he was in a long-term relationship and may someday have wanted to get married, thus benefiting from his own ruling.
This meant that the Prop 8 attorneys first had to somehow prove that Judge Walker intended to marry his partner of many years, and then demonstrate that if he did intend to get married himself he shouldn’t have judged the case. Since Walker hadn’t granted them a tell-all interview, the task of proving that the judge intended to get married became a game of speculation and assumption, and led to exchanges like this one, roughly transcribed with comments by Courage Campaign (W is the judge, James Ware and C is Charles Cooper, the attorney defending Prop 8):
W: What is fact you rely upon that judge walker was in a relationship for purposes of marriage?
C: The fact that he has publicly announced that he is and has been in a relationship with another person?
W: So if you are in a ten year relationship with another person, that is for purposes of marriage?
(laughter—this Cooper is so silly. He should do a Mennen deodorant ad, though. I think he’s still dry.)
W: You would concede that you could be in a long term relationship without being in it for purposes of marriage?
W: What distinguishes it?
C: Very fact that two individuals are in kind of relationship Walker has…
W: What distinguishes between two?
C: There are platonic friendships that do not lead to marriage. [laughter]
W: What do you mean platonic?
C: Non-intimate, non-sexual. Clear understanding of media reports…
W: You are saying that length of relationship alone converts to marriage relationship?
C: Yes. Bespeaks commitment. All of these have been used interchangeably. Take pains to say they are in long term relationships.
W: Their relief was not to stay in long term relationship. Nothing threatened their long term relationship. Neither they nor Walker threatened. They sought to change relationship. What fact would cite to the court that Walker sought to change his relationship?
C: (Stumbles…) There are several points I would make that a reasonable person with knowledge that judge walker would be expected to have an interest in marrying his long time partner. (Thought police, please) Judge Walker similarly situated for purpose of marriage just as plaintiffs.
This is the kind of unsubstantiated speculation about a person’s love life that you’d expect from a celeb magazine profile of Jennifer Aniston, not a serious case in federal court. The basic logic of their argument not only makes no sense in the first place – since they argue that same-sex marriage hurts heterosexual marriage, it follows that heterosexual judges would have to recuse themselves as well (more on that here). But the fact that Prop 8’s proponents have resorted to baseless theorizing about the judge’s personal life truly underscores just how weak a case they have they have.
It is also telling that the “dirt” that Cooper has dug up about Walker isn’t exactly scandalous…in fact, his matter-of-fact assumption that two people in a long-term, committed relationship might want to get married can be seen as a strong argument in favor of letting them do just that.
For their part, the pro-equality camp argued that Judge Walker shouldn’t have had to recuse himself from the case, regardless of who he was planning or not planning to marry.
The judge has promised a decision soon, possibly within a day.
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.
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.
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.