Equality For All

Meaningless Talk, No Action from Corbett on Gay Marriage Brief

Yesterday, we brought you the story of the Corbett administration comparing gay marriage to marriage between 12-year-olds. Now, Governor Corbett is attempting to tamp down criticism without making any substantive changes to policy. A brief filed by his administration argued that gay marriage licenses had no “value or legitimacy” and that issuing those licenses would be like issuing marriage licenses to 12-year-olds:

“Had the clerk issued marriage licenses to 12-year-olds in violation of state law, would anyone seriously contend that each 12-year-old . . . is entitled to a hearing on the validity of his ‘license’?”

On Thursday, Corbett admitted that “[t]he analogy chosen in the legal brief filed on August 28th is inappropriate." Whoa, settle down, Governor— “inappropriate?” Strong word there, that’s some real no-holds barred talk.

Generous as it is of Corbett to acknowledge this comparison was inappropriate—let alone offensive, dumb and condescending—this admission doesn’t change much. The brief still stands; the lawsuit to stop marriage licenses being issued in Montgomery County will continue; and the officials who wrote the brief still work for the governor. The official who wrote this, who thinks that gay people are as incapable of legitimate consent as children, is still a part of the state government, charged with serving the people of Pennsylvania and representing their interests. Sadly, though, with Corbett as governor, a weak apology like this might be the best we can hope for.
 

PFAW

John Lewis and a new generation of movement leaders

"And I say to all the young people, you must get out there and push and pull and make America what America should be for all of us . . . I'm not tired. I'm not weary. I'm not prepared to sit down and give up. I am ready to fight and continue to fight. And you must fight."
PFAW Foundation

Marching On Washington, Again

This weekend People For the American Way Foundation turned out en masse for the 50th Anniversary March on Washington.

Some could remember the original march well.  Some had driven across the country to be there on Saturday.  

Our reasons for being there were as diverse as the range of topics covered by the speakers. Some wanted to see an end to Stand Your Ground laws; others spoke in support of immigration reform, LGBT equality, or voting rights. 

But everyone stood in solidarity with those who marched half a century ago, while calling attention to the ongoing need to fight for social, economic, and racial justice.  Everyone raised their voices in support of justice for all

We saw Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) – just 23 years old when he spoke at the original March on Washington – take the podium again, speaking passionately about the need to protect the right to vote.  He called it “precious…almost sacred.”  Lewis recalled:

I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote.…I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.

Members of the PFAW Foundation family also took the podium.  Young People For (YP4) alum Sophia Campos spoke in personal terms about the need for change in immigration policies, saying: 

I grew up in this country undocumented. My family is immigrant… A million people have been deported in the last five years….It’s our black and brown bodies in these cells that are being detained.

Another YP4 alum, Dream Defenders leader Phil Agnew, also spoke at the rally, calling on young people to take the lead in the progressive movement.  Young people, he said, are “here today to join in a conversation that will shake the very foundations of this capital.” 

And Rev. Charles Williams, an active member of PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, was named by the event organizers as being part of the next generation of leaders.

We came to honor those who marched 50 years ago, but also to call attention to the critical justice issues facing our country today.  As PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan wrote last week:

That’s what this week is about: making sure that we, as a country, continue to strive to fulfill the promise of justice for all -- the American Way.

PFAW Foundation

Making History and Knowing our History

Events commemorating the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom are already under way in Washington, D.C.  If you live in the capital area or nearby, you may want to attend events at the Lincoln Memorial this Saturday, August 24th or next Wednesday, August 28th , or one of dozens of other events. The A. Philip Randolph Institute, for example is holding its 44th annual education conference and youth conference in honor of Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the organizers of the March who appeared on the cover of Life Magazine’s September 6, 1963 issue. You can find information about events here and here.

Whether or not you can get to Washington, you can catch major events on television. And you might want to get started tonight – Friday, August 23 – with the PBS re-broadcast of an award-winning documentary about author and advocate James Baldwin.  James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket will be shown on PBS stations as part of the American Masters program.  Broadcast times vary so check your local station’s listings. PBS will also host on interactive online screening at 5:00 pm eastern on August 28th.

Another important documentary, Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, will also be shown on public television on August 28th.

For a reminder of why it’s important to know our history, and prevent it from being co-opted, see People For the American Way President Michael Keegan’s new Huffington Post op-ed, Don’t Let the Right Wing Co-opt King.

PFAW

50 Years Later, John Lewis Returns to Podium as Sole Surviving March Speaker

Recently The New York Times reminded us that Representative John Lewis is still marching on Washington, 50 years later.

On August 28, 1963, as the 23-year-old chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis took the podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Tomorrow, as the 73-year-old representative from Georgia's 5th congressional district, he will commemorate the 50th anniversary of those remarks.

Representative Lewis returns to the podium as the sole surviving speaker from the March on Washington.

A half century ago he was the torchbearer for youth leadership in the Civil Rights Movement. The message he delivered still hits home for youth leaders like those of Young People For.

Here at YP4 we know that “justice for all” is an expansive idea that includes pushing for and protecting civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT equality and more. It means rededicating ourselves to the promise of vibrant, safe, democratic communities. It means fighting for a country where our voices are not drowned out by massive corporate spending to influence our elections. It means standing up to groups like ALEC which push extreme laws threatening the wellbeing of our communities, such as the “Stand Your Ground” laws that YP4 alumni like [Phillip] Agnew – leader of the Dream Defenders in Florida – have been fighting to change.

In other words, we know that “justice for all” is a promise that has yet to be realized.

Join us tomorrow as Representative Lewis and others once again bring the struggle for jobs, justice, and freedom back to the nation's capital. Check out MLKDREAM50 for information on the full week of events.

PFAW Foundation

Still Marching for Justice, Health, and Black Women’s Lives

Guest post from Reverend Dr. Geraldine Pemberton, Assistant Pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia and member of PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council. 

As a 74 year old retired nurse, I can remember the original March on Washington well.  I wasn’t able to be there in person that day, but many of my family members were.  After marching with Dr. King and more than 200,000 other Americans, they were inspired to come home and fight for justice.

I myself am of the Jim Crow era.  The injustices that Dr. King described that day as the “chains of discrimination” were injustices I faced first-hand.  My father, who was born in North Carolina, would take my family down from Philadelphia for visits to his home state.  He would try to prepare us as much as he could, but it was always overwhelming.  I remember that once we passed the Mason-Dixon line, we couldn’t use most bathrooms.  We would have to use outhouses behind gas stations instead.

Today I can see how far we’ve come, but also how much further we still have to go.  I have spent much of my life fighting the injustices that drove the first March on Washington, especially health disparities facing women of color.  Justice, I have learned, is a very big umbrella that must include equality for women.  A just society has to be one that values women’s voices and fights back against health disparities that threaten black women’s lives.

Twenty years after that march, I went to another major event that inspired people from all over to drop what they were doing and travel across the country – the 1983 Spelman College conference on women’s health, which birthed what is now the Black Women’s Health Imperative.  My friend and I saw a flyer for it but didn’t think we could afford to go.  We maxed out our credit cards and drove down to Atlanta. Thousands of women showed up for the conference – young women, older women, women with children, women who had hitchhiked there.  We just showed up - we had to be there.

That conference unfolded into a lifetime of work in pursuit of improving the health outcomes of African American women.  As a former Director of Nursing and a current Health Committee Director for an alliance of Black clergy in Philadelphia, I know that women of color need improved access to care and greater provider sensitivity.  Women need more information on the diseases that affect us most.  And as a 74 year old Philadelphian, I’m still fighting for women’s health and justice.  This year I am organizing health forums at churches throughout the city to give women more information about diseases, healthy living, and greater access to health services though the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act commonly known as “Obamacare.”

The first health forum is this weekend – fifty years after the March on Washington.  In so many ways, we are still marching.

PFAW Foundation

ENDA passes HELP Committee, ready for Senate floor

This critical piece of anti-discrimination legislation would make it illegal to make employment decisions – hiring, firing, promotion, or compensation – based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
PFAW

Dumping DOMA: The Next Step

PFAW is a strong supporter of the Respect for Marriage Coalition and applauds Representative Nadler, Senator Feinstein, and their 200 bipartisan cosponsors for taking swift action to dump DOMA.
PFAW

In 2016, Remember This Week at the Supreme Court

It's been a week of mixed emotions for those of us who care about civil rights. There was the elation today when the Supreme Court overturned the so-called Defense of Marriage Act -- the discriminatory law that has hurt so many Americans in its nearly 17 years of existence -- and let marriage equality return to California. There was the anger when the Court twisted the law to make it harder for workers and consumers to take on big corporations. And there was the disbelief and outrage when the Court declared that a key part of the Voting Rights Act that was so important and had worked so well was now somehow no longer constitutional.

But throughout the week, I have been reminded of one thing: how grateful I am that Mitt Romney will not be picking the next Supreme Court justice.

It remains true that this Supreme Court is one of the most right-leaning in American history. The majority's head-in-the-sand decision on the Voting Rights Act -- declaring that the VRA isn't needed anymore because it's working so well -- was a stark reminder of why we need to elect presidents who will nominate Supreme Court justices who understand both the text and history of the Constitution and the way it affects real people's lives.

We were reminded of this again today when all the conservative justices except for Anthony Kennedy stood behind the clearly unconstitutional DOMA. Justice Antonin Scalia -- no stranger to anti-gay rhetoric -- wrote an apoplectic rant of a dissent denying the Court's clear role in preserving equal protection. If there had been one more far-right justice on the court, Scalia's dissent could have been the majority opinion.

Just think of how different this week would have been if Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were not on the court and if John McCain had picked two justices instead. We almost certainly wouldn't have a strong affirmation of LGBT equality. Efforts to strip people of color of their voting rights would likely have stood with fewer justices in dissent. And the rights of workers and consumers could be in even greater peril.

As the Republican party moves further and further to the right, it is trying to take the courts with it. This week, we saw what that means in practice. As we move forward to urge Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act and reinforce protections for workers and consumers, and work to make sure that marriage equality is recognized in all states, we must always remember the courts. Elections have real consequences. These Supreme Court decisions had less to do with evolving legal theory than with who appointed the justices. Whether historically good or disastrous, all these decisions were decided by just one vote. In 2016, let's not forget what happened this week.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

PFAW

Supreme Court Dumps PART of DOMA

The Supreme Court today ruled that the core section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. DOMA’s Section 3, which the Court vacated, prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, thereby hitting legally married gay and lesbian couples with extra taxes and depriving them of a slew of federal protections.

People For the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan said of the Supreme Court’s ruling: “Today’s  DOMA ruling is a profound step forward for loving, committed same-sex couples across the country. The decision is premised on the plain fact that there is no good reason for the government to recognize some legally married couples while discriminating against others.”

PFAW launched a campaign to “Dump DOMA” in 2008. Since then, our petition calling on Congress to repeal the discriminatory law  has gathered 230,000 signatures.

But the effort to overturn DOMA is not over. While Section 3 was the law’s most damaging provision, DOMA’s Section 2, which says that states don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, still stands. We will continue to work to overturn the remainder of DOMA and ensure that all gay and lesbian Americans have the right to marriage, no matter which state they make their home.

While our work continues, today’s decision represents a historic turning point for equality.  DOMA will no longer tear apart binational couples. It will no longer impose a “gay tax” on legally married same-sex couples. It will no longer deny benefits to same-sex spouses of federal employees. It will no longer deny gay and lesbian veterans benefits for their spouses.

The story of Edith Windsor, the plaintiff who brought DOMA to the Supreme Court, and Thea Spyer, her late wife and partner of 40 years, illustrates what this decision will mean to so many Americans:
 

PFAW

DOMA Decision Slices Right Wing Talking Point on Referendums

Today's opinion shatters the ridiculous right-wing line that marriage equality laws are illegitimate without a referendum.
PFAW Foundation

HUD Report Documents Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples

A new report released this week by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the first-ever national study documenting discrimination against same-sex couples in the private rental market.
PFAW

Delaware Passes Historic Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill

Last Tuesday Delaware Governor Jack Markell wrote that in his state, it is high time “our laws reflect our values.”  The bill in question was the Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act of 2013, which adds gender identity to the state’s hate crime prevention and non-discrimination laws.  As Gov. Markell pointed out,

“Under our State's laws, it is currently legal to fire someone, deny them housing, or throw them out of a restaurant simply because they are transgender. This is simply not the Delaware way…”

And it’s not the American way. With bipartisan support in the state House and Senate, the bill passed the Delaware legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Markell Wednesday evening, making Delaware the 17th state with an employment non-discrimination law covering gender identity in addition to sexual orientation.

This is a profound victory for transgender Delawareans like Jay Campbell, who has so far felt unable to come out in his workplace. Campbell told the News Journal of Wilmington earlier this month,

“Without basic protection from discrimination, I can’t afford to tell my employer. I can’t obtain health coverage for the fear I’ll be outed and fired.”

Campbell shares this concern with other transgender – as well as lesbian, gay, and bisexual – people across the country.  In the majority of U.S. states, it remains legal to fire someone for being LGBT. This means that far too many people find themselves forced to choose between risking their livelihoods and undertaking the painful work of hiding who they are, day after day.

Today’s victory in Delaware underscores the need for employment protections for LGBT workers in every state through the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  This common-sense solution would help ensure that employees like Campbell are judged by how well they do their job, not by who they are or who they love.

PFAW

Anti-Bullying Protections Headed to Senate Floor

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to bring the bill to the floor but has not released a date. People for the American Way will continue to monitor ESEA’s progress and the anti-bullying provisions it contains.
PFAW

For LGBT Seniors Fighting DOMA is About Economic Survival

For the elderly, the fight against DOMA often isn’t only a question of receiving federal recognition for a marriage – it’s also a question of basic economic survival.
PFAW

Delaware Senate Passes Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill

Yesterday afternoon the Delaware Senate passed a historic civil rights bill adding gender identity to the state’s hate crime prevention and non-discrimination laws.  Despite damaging lies about transgender Americans pushed by organizations like Focus on the Family and the Delaware Family Policy Council, the state Senate approved the bill in an 11-7 vote.

Sarah McBride of Equality Delaware said,

“The Senate vote today inspired a lot of hope in me and I’m sure that’s true for many other transgender people across Delaware. It was inspiring to see a majority of the Senators stand up for a group that has seen disproportionate levels of discrimination and violence.”

If enacted, Delaware will become the 17th state with an employment non-discrimination law that covers gender identity in addition to sexual orientation. 
 

PFAW

New Report Sheds Light on Inequalities Suffered by LGBT Workers

Our society is one which remains afflicted by institutionalized discrimination. Although most Americans believe protections already exist, it is still perfectly legal to fire someone for being lesbian, gay, or bisexual in 29 states, and for being transgender in 34.

Indeed, a new report released Tuesday by the Movement Advancement Project, the Center for American Progress, the Human Rights Campaign, and others provides a comprehensive synthesis of the wealth of evidence documenting the inequalities faced by LGBT workers. Titled “A Broken Bargain: Discrimination, Fewer Benefits and More Taxes for LGBT Workers,” the report presents extensive documentation of bias in the recruitment process, of hostile work environments, of persistent wage disparities as compared to non-LGBT employees, and of dramatically reduced access to health insurance, family and medical leave, retirement benefits, and disability and survivor benefits – despite paying higher taxes due to the inability of LGBT households to file jointly.

The impact on families is devastating. According to the report, inequality when looking for jobs, inequality on the job, and inequality in benefits received from jobs combine to make LGBT parents twice as likely to live near the poverty line when compared to non-LGBT counterparts.

Left to right, seated at panel: Bill Hendrix, Nicole G. Berner, Dorian Warren,Sam Hall, Mia Macy, T.J. Maloney. Photo of release event at Center for American Progress.

While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently found that existing Title VII law covers gender identity, courts are not required to give any deference to its legal interpretations, so legislation is required. Such a bill to guarantee much-needed federal employment protections for LGBT people was recently introduced in the 113th Congress. Known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the bill has been introduced in nearly every Congressional session since 1994, and the fight for basic workplace equality continues to the present day.

Further, corporate America knows that ENDA is good for business. As Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said Tuesday morning at the release event for the report,

“When we asked employers about this, many of them said, ‘well, isn’t it already illegal’? … In our Fortune 500 companies, over 400 have policies addressing LGBT discrimination, and well over half have addressed gender identity. In the 21 state laboratories in which this has been implemented, there has been no concern over [costs to business caused by] additional lawsuits … they are a small percentage of all lawsuits to do with gender, religion, and race. This is a non-issue.”

Passing ENDA, then, would not only help alleviate discrimination faced by LGBT workers, but would also help businesses attract the best qualified employees possible. As Bill Hendrix from Dow Chemical said at the event,

“It’s hard enough already to find good people to fill jobs. Why would you begin by excluding parts of the population?”

PFAW

Student Non-Discrimination Act Sorely Needed in Our Nation’s Schools

“I stopped going to school four months before graduation because I couldn’t handle the bullying anymore. I will not get to attend my senior prom, and…throw my graduation cap in the air.”

Harassment and bullying in schools are widely understood to be pervasive nationwide problems.  But as the above quote from an LGBT student highlights, for LGBT young people the situation can be especially severe.  Yesterday the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression in public schools, was both reintroduced in the Senate by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and included in Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) proposed education bill updating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. 

Studies show that this kind of legislation is sorely needed. The most recent Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network National School Climate Survey found that in the past year alone, more than eight in ten LGBT students had been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation and more than six in ten because of their gender expression.  The majority of students who were harassed did not report it to school staff, believing that nothing would happen if they did – or that the situation could get even worse. 

As one student shared,

“Bullying in our school is mostly verbal, but it hurts just as much as any physical pain… Teachers rarely do anything about it.”

Those who were harassed frequently had lower GPAs and were less likely to say they planned to go on to college or other post-secondary education.  Many LGBT students reported missing class because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, with nearly one in three LGBT students missing at least one full school day in the past month.

When harassment at school is associated with missed classes, lowered grades, shifted educational ambitions, or even depression, it can have long term implications for the wellbeing of LGBT youth.  No student should face this kind of hostility at school because of who they are or who others perceive them to be.

PFAW

Exxon Mobil Votes Down LGBT Discrimination Ban, Again

Today, for the fourteenth time, Exxon Mobil shareholders voted down a resolution supporting an LGBT-inclusive equal employment opportunity statement. With  94% of the largest companies in America already prohibiting sexual orientation-based discrimination and 78% prohibiting gender identity-based discrimination, Exxon Mobil is way behind.  Exxon has even gone out of its way to avoid implementing this type of policy.  Though Mobil Oil had non-discrimination policies in place protecting workers on the basis of sexual orientation, Exxon rescinded them over a decade ago when they bought the company. 

Exxon Mobil’s refusal to change their outdated policy underscores the need for employment non-discrimination laws that protect LGBT workers.  Though most Americans believe that LGBT employees are already protected, in much of our country employers can still fire someone because of who they are or who they love. 

PFAW Communications Director Drew Courtney recently pointed out that on the question of whether it’s okay to fire someone for being LGBT,

“few Americans still think that’s a live question.  Overwhelming majorities of Americans support the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal to fire someone for being gay or transgender.”

But Exxon Mobil hasn’t yet gotten that memo.

PFAW

Will Mark Sanford Listen to Mark Sanford's Lesson in Grace?

"I am one imperfect man saved by God's grace," Mark Sanford proclaimed yesterday as he declared victory in a special election for South Carolina's open House seat. "Until you experience human grace as a reflection of God's grace, I don't think you really get it," he said. "And I didn't get it before."

Sanford's victory wasn't a big surprise. He won as a Republican in a district that favored Mitt Romney by 18 points last year.

What would be a surprise, and what I would love to see, is if Sanford applied his new personal understanding of "human grace as a reflection of God's grace" to his new role in government.

He could, for instance, apply some of that grace to women facing often wrenching decisions about abortion, allowing them to make their own decisions rather than pre-judging them with burdensome regulations designed to humiliate them and severely restrict their choices.

He could apply some of that grace to gay and lesbian couples,who, like him, are simply trying to share their lives openly with the one they love. While many public figures have "evolved" on gay rights without even having to be "saved by grace," Mark Sanford just recently reminded us that he hasn't moved an inch.

He could perhaps share some grace with his fellow Americans who are struggling to raise children while working multiple low-paying jobs. Maybe with his newfound empathy, he will understand that pre-K education, health care and food assistance can help those struggling to get by keep themselves afloat in an unforgiving economy.

Maybe he will have some grace left over for undocumented immigrants who are trying to support their families and give back to the country they call home.

Perhaps he could convince his party, which claims to be in the market for a makeover, that a little grace and understanding would do it some good.

Maybe this will happen. But it seems more likely that Sanford's idea of grace, choice and personal freedom apply exclusively to people like him.

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post.

PFAW