Saturday, December 26, 2009

"I Do"s Coming to DC, LGBT Protections in East Point, GA

At the end of 2009, there's been more good news from the South.

Washington DC’s City Council has voted for marriage equality in the nation’s capital. Mayor Adrian Fenty has signed the bill, which was co-sponsored by 10 of the city council’s 13 members.

The law has to be reviewed by Congress, which has the final say on DC's laws. Lawmakers appear unlikely to intervene though, so gay couples could be legally marrying in Washington by March.

Meanwhile, the town of East Point, GA, has made smaller headlines by joining a handful of other cities in that state to adopt protections for its gay and transgender employees. The local law, which passed unanimously, prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The city has had domestic partner benefits since 2005, and the city charter also includes a Bill of Rights section that says the city will not adopt any laws that intentionally discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Atlanta, Decatur and Doraville are other Georgia cities that protect LGBT employees. The cities of Chamblee and Clarkston prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity.

These are the incremental local changes that pave the path towards equality and fairness. This is why local activism and simple visibility is so important, whether its in your town, your workplace, or your neighborhood.

People often dismiss the South as being intolerant and backwards, but the reality is that it's like anywhere else, with pockets of prejudice but also pockets of progress. We just need to help make sure the right pockets grow bigger.

Monday, December 14, 2009

"Invictus," Describing the Unconquerable Nelson Mandela and the Uneatable Game of Rugby

Over the weekend, I went with some rugby buddies to see the movie "Invictus," which details a little-known story of peace advocate and apartheid-ender Nelson Mandela and the sport of rugby. (This does relate to LGBT equality, so bear with me.)

In the movie, we see how newly-elected South African President Nelson Mandela (played by narratoriffic Morgan Freeman) uses his influence to prevent the country's national rugby team, the Springboks, from being dissolved and reformed. Some people considered it a symbol of white oppression, but Mandela saw it instead as an opportunity for bridging racial chasms. He worked with the rugby team's captain, Francois Pienaar (played by a beefy Matt Damon) to turn the team from a symbol of racial division into one of unification and solidarity. That year the Springboks then went from having a sub-par record to winning the rugby World Cup ... in overtime no less. It's the most cliched of sports tales, except for the fact that it's completely true.

There are two important things for people involved in the equality movement to take away from this movie.

First, it's that rugby is a great, inclusive game. It's a super sport for all people, with different types of positions within a team for all body types and levels of athleticism: tall, short, fast, strong, skinny, fat, whatever.

North Carolina has two officially gay rugby teams - i.e., they're predominately LGBT, though each has a straight member (not intentionally token, just coincidentally) - the Kodiaks, here in the Triangle, and the Royals, up in Charlotte. Both of them are members of IGRAB, the International Gay Rugby Association and Board.

Even outside of the officially-gay teams, though, rugby culture is generally very gay-friendly. For example, the Kodiaks always practice and play with Eno River Rage and the Eno Men's team. Rugby is incredibly butch and it's incredibly gay, in ways that overlap and in ways that are totally different. It's so intrinsically both that it's that it's transcendent. If you've always wanted to play sports but have been worried about homophobia, rugby is the way to go.

The second, and more important, aspect of the movie are the lessons that Nelson Mandela taught, that solidarity, education, and forgiveness are the greatest strengths in any movement for fairness and justice. After being unjustly imprisoned for 27 years, he eschewed revenge and partisanship and worked with the people who mistreated him.

Ultimately, we, the LGBT community, are all working together towards a common goal, despite individual differences and variations and opinions.

Broader than that, though, we're working for true equality of everyone, including the people working in opposition groups. The idea of eventually coming together with people that teach hatred and push second-class citizenship on us (and some who advocate violence and death) is a hard one to grasp, but as Mandela observes, "Not to forgive is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies." LGBT people are discriminated against when we're dehumanized, and we repeat that mistake when we dehumanize those who oppose equality.

Besides, the core of prejudice is ignorance, and we cannot dispel ignorance if we're not willing to talk with others and teach them. Mandela again: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

None of this means we shouldn't work against homophobia, just that we should work against homophobia per se and not just the people who are homophobes. In the best of all possible worlds, we'll be changing their hearts and minds, and bringing them around to be pro-equality allies.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Equality in the News December 4th-December 11th

Here’s this week’s round up everyone. I’m sad to say that this will probably be my last entry because my time interning at Equality N.C. has come to an end. I’ve learned a lot in the semester that worked with everyone and hope to continue to do my part for the striving for equality.

-Jennifer

STATE

Domestic Partnership Benefits in Mecklenburg Co.

In last week’s Equality in the News post, I reported that Mecklenburg county was in the process of deciding when and if a discussion of domestic partner benefits would take place in the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners meeting. I’m proud to report that on December 15th, domestic partner benefits will be discussed on the regular meeting agenda!

NATION


GLSEN’s “Think Before You Speak” Campaign

Recently, GLSEN launched an online campaign encouraging people to “Think before they speak,” when using offensive terms in reference to LGBTs or in reference or substitution for other words. The original campaign started in 2008 with celebrity endorsed T.V. commercials, but now has taken over the internet with participants in the campaign having access to downloadable ad banners, blog modules and slur counters for their own blogs and social networking sites (such as twitter and facebook).

Delayed Equal Marriage vote for NJ & Bruce Springsteen

Senate President Richard Codey has honored the request to delay Thursday’s scheduled vote on NJ’s bill to legalize equal marriage. Other senators believe the bill will not receive the 21 votes needed to pass.


Speaking of NJ, Bruce Springsteen is backing equal marriage for NJ! Springsteen recently posted a statement on his website urging support of the equal marriage bill (that has since been delayed from Thursday’s original date).

California School District Bans LGBT friendly Curriculum (Lesson 9)


The Alameda school district is in conflict over a 45-minute lesson taught once a year that emphasizes anti-bullying lessons in six specific forms, including bullying specific to LGBT students. Many parents in the community feel that elementary school is “too early,” for their students to learn about LGBT citizens. Other families feel as though the lesson should continue on counts that students as young as elementary school have been heard using offensive language and phrases towards LGBT.


The district, although torn, has decided to opt-out of lesson 9, supposedly to protect itself from further lawsuits.

California Chooses First Openly Gay Assembly Speaker

On Thursday, Assembly Democrats unanimously chose John Perez (the chairman of the Assembly Democratic Caucus) to be its next speaker. Perez will take over the position from Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (elected in February 2008). Congrats to John Perez!

WORLD


Austrian Parliament gives OK to Civil Unions


On Thursday, Austria’s parliament passed legislation allowing civil unions for same-sex couples. The bill will become a law on January 1st, 2010 and give the couples access to a pensions and alimonies. Unlike straight couples, same-sex couples won’t be able to record their unions with the civil registry office, but with another authority instead.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Nondiscrimination That Dare Not Speak Its Name - Human Rights Day 2009

Tomorrow, 12/10, is the 2009 Human Rights Day, sponsored by the United Nations.

The theme for 2009 is nondiscrimination with the tagline "embrace diversity, end discrimination."

Here's a PDF fact sheet for the day.

According to the website, "The realization of all human rights - social, economic and cultural as well as civil and political rights – is hampered by discrimination. All too often, when faced with prejudice and discrimination, political leaders, governments and ordinary citizens are silent or complacent. Yet everyone of us can make a difference. You are encouraged to celebrate Human Rights Day by advocating non-discrimination, organizing activities, raising awareness and reaching out to your local communities on 10 December and beyond."

When they list examples of discrimination, they include:
Obviously LGBT people are notably missing. We are not, however, excluded, just kind of buried. If you go to the link of Stories on Discrimination, you can find tales of homophobia, as well as discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS.

While it's encouraging that our stories are included, it's shameful that the UN has failed clearly list sexual orientation and gender identity in the list.

(The UN has made some progress on this issue in other documents: here's a link to the Wikipedia page on the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity. This was an issue at the end of last year when America was the only Western nation not to support this non-binding declaration. Fortunately, after a change in the Executive branch of government, America did sign on earlier this year. This declaration and discussion was a pretty significant breakthrough for the UN, being one of their first major advances on collectively recognizing LGBT people.)

All around the world, millions of people face a daily struggle against discrimination – both directly, through laws and policies, or indirectly, through societal attitudes and prejudice. When taken to the extreme, such discrimination has even resulted in policies of ethnic cleansing and genocide (like the proposed 'kill gays' law in Uganda, being indirectly supported by some legislators here in North Carolina).

However, there've also been many successes – from the toppling of the apartheid regime in South Africa to the extension of voting rights to women in many countries – which should encourage us that inequality and discrimination can be fought against and eradicated.

On Human Rights Day 2009 (Thursday, December 10), resolve to embrace diversity and work to end discrimination.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Take Action and Push Faltering ENDA!

As we approach the holiday season and the end of the year, the momentum behind the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is dropping.

Currently,
29 states, including North Carolina, let you be fired because you're lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Thirty-eight states, including North Carolina, let you be fired for being transgender.

ENDA would help ensure that people's employment is based on the quality of their work, not their sexual orientation or gender identity.

You can take action now on this national issue. Go to:
(And if you'd be interested in doing some statewide phone-banking here in the ENC office during the day on Wed, 12/9, let us know: e-mail me at shawn@equalitync.org.)

On Friday, a coalition of national groups joined together to encourage action on this important issue. Equality NC and other state groups have since signed onto the statement as well. A copy of the press release is below.

There's a saying:

"The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago;
the second best time is right now."


The same is true of taking action for employment nondiscrimination.

==========
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 4, 2009

LGBT AMERICANS OUTRAGED AT DELAY IN BASIC JOB RIGHTS

In light of continuing delays in the House of Representatives, we must state clearly and unequivocally: Passing basic job protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people must happen now. At a time when our government is deeply focused on the critical issue of employment, it is inexcusable to delay action on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Each and every job lost to prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity needlessly compounds the unemployment challenges facing our nation. We call on Congress for the immediate passage of ENDA.

For decades now, we have called upon Congress to pass legislation to address the basic right of LGBT people to work free from discrimination at our jobs, and now Congress tells us we must wait another year. In 29 states, it remains legal to fire people based on sexual orientation and in 38 states, discrimination based on gender identity remains legal. In failing to take swift action to pass ENDA, our government allows unfettered bigotry to go unchecked, leading to the loss of jobs, fear in the workplace, economic instability, and personal hardship, while allowing employers to lose competent experienced workers. ENDA is urgently needed by our communities.

The majority of Americans consistently state their support for employment protections and voters have affirmed similar state and local measures. There is absolutely no reason for Congress to continue to delay this non-controversial bill or drop LGBT issues to the bottom of their agenda. We will not be denied basic rights any longer. Nothing is more important than protecting peoples’ jobs so ENDA must pass now. Further delays are absolutely unacceptable.

Matthew Coles & James Esseks, Co-Directors, American Civil Liberties Union LGBT Project
Terry Stone, Executive Director, CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers
Lisa Kove, Executive Director, DOD Federal Globe
Toni Broaddus, Executive Director, Equality Federation
Jennifer Chrisler, Executive Director, Family Equality Council
Lee Swislow, Executive Director, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
Jarrett Tomás Barrios, President, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
Caleb Laieski, Director of Legislative Affairs, GLUAD
Joe Solmonese, President, Human Rights Campaign
Rachel T. Niven, Executive Director, Immigration Equality
Earl Fowlkes, President/CEO, International Federation of Black Prides, Inc.
Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director, Lambda Legal
Christian Berle, Director of the Log Cabin Republicans National Office
Sharon J. Lettman, Executive Director/CEO, National Black Justice Coalition
Kate Kendell, Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights
Mara Keisling, Executive Director, National Center for Transgender Equality
Rebecca Fox, Executive Director, National Coalition for LGBT Health
Rea Carey, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund
Michael Mitchell, Executive Director, National Stonewall Democrats
Gregory Varnum, Executive Director, National Youth Advocacy Coalition
Selisse Berry, Founding Executive Director, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
Jody Huckaby, Executive Director, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National
Jo Kenny, Interim Director, Pride at Work AFL-CIO
Masen Davis, Executive Director, Transgender Law Center

Friday, December 4, 2009

Equality in the News November 20th-December 5th

Happy Friday! I hope everyone enjoyed quality time with friends, family & loved ones over the Thanksgiving holiday & that if you participated in Black Friday or Cyber Monday, that you were able to get your hands on a good deal!
Since we took the week off last week with Equality in the News, I’ll make sure to make this week’s entry a little “meatier,” than usual to cover events that occurred last week. -Jennifer

State


North Carolina Senate News…

On November 17th, the North Carolina Senate elected Martin Nesbitt Jr. (D-Buncombe) to replace former Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand. Ian Palmquist, executive director of ENC also feels that Nesbitt has been a “good ally,” and states, “We are definitely monitoring to see who gets appointed to the other key positions [held by Rand] like Rules chair, which have a big impact on which bills come to the floor---both positive and negative.” Read more about Sen. Martin Nesbitt Jr. and more thoughts from Ian.

Domestic Partner Benefits in Mecklenburg County

Since January of this year, and at the request of county commissioners, Mecklenburg County has been looking into whether it can offer domestic partner benefits to county employees. Diane Juffras of the UNC School Government stated that adding benefits to domestic partners would serve as a “recruiting and retention tool” for employees.

Currently six N.C. governments offer benefits and many private sector employers do as well. So far, it isn’t clear when the county’s human resources staff will bring the issue back to commissioners.

Boseman Not Running for Fourth Term

At the end of last month, State Senator Julia Boseman--the first openly gay person elected to the General Assembly--stated that she won’t run for a fourth term, due to family responsibilities. She will however, serve the remainder of her two-year term in 2010.

This year, Senator Boseman successfully pushed legislation for the School Violence Prevention Act. Ian Palmquist, the executive director of ENC states, “Senator Boseman taking the lead on this bill made all the difference in the state Senate.”

Boseman also cast the only vote against a General Assembly resolution honoring the late U.S>. Senator Jesse Helms because of his long opposition to civil-rights legislation and increased funding to fight AIDS.

Nation


New York, New Jersey

On Wednesday, December 2nd, New York senators voted 38-24 to reject marriage equality. Governor David Paterson and other legislative sponsors who have been pushing for the bill were surprised at the result. The result comes as a disappointment, but New York’s neighbor to the south will emerge as the next battleground state. On December 7th, a New Jersey Senate panel will vote on the measure and it may come before the full chamber as early as December 10th. A New Jersey Law already gives same-sex couples the ability to enter into civil unions that provide them with the same rights at the state level. December 7th is just around the corner, so let’s keep our ears and eyes towards New Jersey.

Georgia Elects Nation’s first Lesbian African American State Lawmaker

The past few weeks have been a monumental in the election of LGBT citizens into politics. On Tuesday, Georgia citizens elected Simone Bell to the House of Representatives, making her the NATION’s (not just the state’s) first openly-lesbian African-American state lawmaker (you, go girl!). Bell will become the second LGBT congressperson in Georgia’s legislature, following Representative Karla Drenner also of Atlanta. Bill received 56 percent of the vote to her opponent (Asha Jackson) who only received 44 percent.

D.C. Approval!

On Tuesday, the Washington D.C. Council voted 11-2 in favor of equal marriage! It was the first of two votes on the issue allowing equal marriage in D.C. Ten out of the thirteen council members supported the bill’s (which was sponsored by Councilman David Catania) introduction. The final vote is expected later this month and Mayor Adrian Fenty already stated that he will sign the bill. Equal marriage will start in D.C. as soon as the bill passes a period of Congressional review. Congress isn’t expected to alter the law.

In not-such-positive news, The Archdiocese of Washington has threatened to withdraw millions in funding for D.C. social services if equal marriage is legalized in D.C..

Newly Elected Politicians

This week Alex Wan (of Atlanta, G.A.) and Evan Low (of California) were elected to high ranking political posts. Alex Wan is the first openly gay man elected to District 6 in Atlanta City Council and now sits in a position that has been occupied by a gay person for the past 12 years, but never by an Asian American.

Evan Low (at 26) is the nation’s youngest openly gay and youngest Asian American mayor. In additional to his role as mayor, he also works full time as a senior district representative to Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Sunnyvale), as well as pursuing a M.A. in Public Administration from San Jose State University. At this rate, Low will be presidential material in no time!

World


Debate on Equal Rights Bill in Ireland

Irish lawmakers have opened debate on a bill to grant “marriage-style” rights to LGBT couples. This open debate comes as a milestone in a country that has long been observant of Roman Catholic opposition to equal marriage and rights for the LGBT community. Did you know that Ireland considered being a LGBT citizen a criminal offense until 1993? (How outdated!) The bill would give couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples such as property ownership, inheritance, medical care and access to state benefits and also the right to go to court and seek financial support from higher-earning partners in the instance of a failed relationship. If passed, the bill will create, “civil marriage in all but name” for LGBT citizens.

Buenos Aires Couple's Wedding Thwarted

This past Tuesday (December 1st), Buenos Aires officials decided to block the wedding of a same-sex couple because of conflicting judicial rulings. The couple was attempting to unite in Latin America’s first same-sex marriage. After waiting for hours on a final decision, lawyers in the debate announced that the city would not allow the marriage until the Supreme Court had ruled on the case. This decision obviously upset the citizens of the city stating, “The city government has decided to ignore the city judge’s ruling.”

Alex Freyre and Jose Maria are hopeful that they will be able to marry soon. The couple originally planned to marry on Tuesday (World AIDS Day) in an attempt to help raise awareness about the issue, as both are HIV positive.
A bill that would legalize equal marriage was introduced to Congress in October, but has stalled without a vote since. Currently only seven countries in the world allow equal marriage: Canada, Spain, South African, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium.

The Kill Bill

Uganda is likely to pass a bill criminalizing homosexuality. The bill is a growing campaign against LGBT citizens in Uganda. Critics claim the aim is to divert attention from corruption and other political issues ahead of the 2011 national vote. The author of the bill, David Bahati—a member of the religious group “The Family”--claims the bill, “promotes family values” (or teaches open discrimination, in my opinion). The bill is expected to pass and if passed will proscribe the death penalty for “serial offenders.” Equality NC is encouraging individuals to contact American members of “The Family,” asking them to speak out against the bill.

A prominent member of the Ugandian Anglican church, Canon Gideon Byamugisha, has denounced the bill, saying that it would lead to “state-sponsored genocide.”

O.K. folks, I’m off to start my long and drawn out preparation of studying for my finals. I can see many cups of coffee and sleepless nights in my immediate future.
Have a Great Weekend!


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The South Will Rise Again (In A Positive, Inclusive Way, That Is ...)!

It's easy to get caught up in some of the major LGBT news events that happen in other parts of the country (e.g., the gain - and then loss - of marriage equality in California and Maine), but we shouldn't lose sight of the incremental but significant victories that are occurring here in the South.

Our neighbors and fellow citizens believe in fairness, and the more open and visible LGBT folks become, the more progress we'll make in our neighborhoods and towns.

Consider:
  • Georgia just elected the nation's first black lesbian legislator (an inclusive twofer!). Simone Bell, won a runoff election to represent Georgia State House District 58. For more than 20 years, she worked as an activist and advocate in Atlanta and across the South, tackling issues of workplace equality, access to affordable health care, fighting HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination, safe schools for all children, youth empowerment, and women’s issues. She becomes the second openly LGBT member of the Georgia State House, joining Rep. Karla Drenner.
  • Atlanta voters elected the city’s first gay man, and first Asian-American, (again, a two-in-one step forward) to the city council. Alex Wan will represent District 6 after winning an election run-off. He is development director of Jerusalem House, Atlanta’s oldest and largest provider of permanent, supportive housing for homeless or low-income individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS.
  • Washington (not the original, historic one we have here in North Carolina, but instead that second one in D.C. that likes to hog the headlines) just had their city council vote in favor of marriage equality (in the first of two votes). This initial vote was almost unanimous with 11 against two voting to legalize same-sex marriage. And signs are positive for the next vote in a couple of weeks.

    (According to Our Families Count, D.C. has the largest percentage of same-sex couples in the nation, where 1.5 percent of all households comprise same-sex couples. This is more than double the documented percentage of any state.)
  • Just a couple of weeks ago, the Charleston, SC, City Council passed legislation that prohibits discrimination in matters of public accommodation and housing and includes protection for LGBT folks. Now, South Carolina is not a bastion of progressive, gay-positive liberalism. This is a huge victory for fairness and equality.
  • A few months ago, AAA South (the 4th largest AAA affiliate in the country, covering more than 4 million members in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Puerto Rico) said it recognized all spouses, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The policy now lets gay married couples receive spousal discounts under AAA's Associate Membership program. This happened after Equality Florida launched conversations with AAA after receiving calls from gay couples who had been denied family memberships.
Add all that to our amazing wins in North Carolina this year and you see a region that is moving closer to equality day by day.

Change doesn't occur instantly. Instead, it happens bit by bit, locally and regionally before it finally culminates in larger, national progress.

Fairness doesn't come when the majority votes on rights for the minority. Instead, it comes when the minority is seen as ordinary, when LGBT struggles are seen as the regular travails of all folks, not something different or other. It comes from knowing our neighbors, being in the local PTA, shopping at the farmer's market, going to the movies as an out LGBT family.

Change is slow, but it does come, and it's happening all around us. It may sound hard to believe, but for the bright future of equality, look to the South.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bye Bye Bye ... License Plate Frames

Craig and I both used to have license plate frames on our cars. We each had a string of rainbow cat heads that went along the top.

I say used to because as of tomorrow, December 1, a new law goes into effect that makes these illegal. (The no texting while driving law also goes into effect.)

Now, this isn't an antigay law by any means - it applies to all license plate frames, whether they be from CarMax, support the Steelers, say NASCAR, or sport the stars and bars.

The new state law basically bans license plate frames that cover any part of the word “North Carolina” or any part of the registration stickers on the plates. The highway patrol says this additional change will make it easier to identify law-breakers' license plates.

Marginalized groups, like the LGBT community, often use some kind of tag on their vehicles as expressions of solidarity. This just means there's one less avenue to use. No more 'family car,' rainbow bear paws, string of pink triangles, or 'hate is not a family value,' or at least not on the license plate frames.

Other vehicular expressions, like bumper stickers, static clings, vanity plates, and frames on the front of your vehicle, continue to be legal (and should be used - visibility leads to awareness and education).

(Along those lines, please also consider getting a red ribbon specialty license plate to increase AIDS awareness, especially in light of tomorrow being World Aids Day.)

Initially, violators of the the new license plate frame law will just get a warning, but ultimately there'll be a $100 fine for violations. (It'll be a great money-maker for the state, but not so much for the "framed" driver.)

I loved our rainbow kitties, but not enough to risk getting fined for them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

ENDA Resources, and a New Gay Blog at the New York Times

We all have many things to be thankful for during this holiday. Given the current economy, it's important to be grateful for gainful employment for ourselves and our families.

Unfortunately, being LGBT can often be a barrier for employment. That's why employment nondiscrimination is Equality NC's next big initiative (coming off of the success of our school antibullying work). This issue is also moving along at the national level with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Equality NC will be asking for your help to do some federal-level phonebanking for this issue, and you can find information online to help make the case. Some good links include:
  • United ENDA United ENDA is a coalition of state, local and national LGBT organizations and allies committed to the passage of comprehensive federal legislation that protects individuals from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. United ENDA is a coalition effort of nearly 400 organizations, including Equality NC, where the power of the coalition comes from all of the work done by all of the organizations in the coalition.

Education is basically the essence of all of our nondiscrimination work. Americans believe in justice, fairness, and equal treatment, so we make the most progress when we can show people the inequities that LGBT citizens face.

Along those lines, the New York Times has launched a new blog feature, What If You’re Gay? that examines the issues that face gay couples, especially those that come from being denied marriage equality.

Check out this new feature: For Gay Couples, ‘Traditional’ Divorce Isn’t Always an Option and Seven Tips for Dissolving Gay Unions.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Kids, Coloring, and COLAGE

1) Kids!
For the past several years, Craig and I (and later, when he came into the picture, Kid) have been part of a research study on gay parents and their children. We had the honor of being among the token gay male couples included.

Abbie Goldberg recently published the results of her study in her new book, “Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children.”

In her book, she notes that accumulated research shows that children of same-sex parents are not markedly different from those of heterosexual parents. They have no increased incidence of psychiatric disorders, are just as popular at school, and have just as many friends.

While girls raised by lesbian mothers seem slightly more likely to have more sexual partners, and boys slightly more likely to have fewer, than those raised by heterosexual mothers, neither sex is more likely to suffer to identify as LGBT.

In fact, these children tend to be less conventional and more flexible when it comes to gender roles and assumptions than those raised in more traditional families.

Long story short, the kids are all right! The New York times has a nice article on this here.


2) Coloring!
According to the American Association of Pediatrics, there are 9 million children living in LGBT-headed families in the United States alone. As of the 2000 census, children with two moms or two dads lived in 96% of US counties (and 100% of NC counties).

(This doesn’t include children living with parents who identify as bisexual or transgender and live with a partner of the opposite sex, single parents, or non-custodial parents.)

Despite these numbers, very few children’s books are published which reflect the lives of children with LGBT parents. It’s entirely possible for children to go all the way through child care and twelve years of school without ever reading a story about a family like theirs, let alone seeing their family reflected in music, TV shows, or movies.

Most teachers want all children to be comfortable in their classrooms. Most parents want their children to grow up to be tolerant of all kinds of differences. Reading stories that represent all kinds of families helps all children to feel safe, acknowledged, and accepted.

Rainbow Rumpus offer a couple of free PDFs of coloring books for LGBT families.

They also offer parent and teacher guides for these books, as well as some good advice for talking with children about families.
  • Let children decide for themselves when and how much to share about their own families.
  • Read stories that show different family structures: single parents, divorced parents, married and unmarried parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, and extended families. Include stories about families with both heterosexual and LGBT parents.
  • Talk with children about the different kinds of families and point out the similarities as well as the differences. Let the conversation about families take place over time and in the natural context of children’s curiosity.
  • Don’t be afraid to use the words heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, as appropriate, to describe the adults in the stories. It’s important for children to hear these words used and defined as terms that may describe family members, because they will also almost certainly hear the words gay and lesbian used as insults by other children or adults.

3) COLAGE!
COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere) has announced their ART Project to highlight the experiences of people born through assisted reproductive technologies (ART), e.g., donor insemination.

Over the past 30 years the number of people born through these technologies to LGBT parents has steadily grown, yet let little, if any, work has been done to bring this community together or address the experiences of these youth and adults.

The first major effort of the ART Project is to conduct a national assessment of children of gay parents born through donor insemination. COLAGE is calling all youth born through donor insemination and their parents to take an online survey.

COLAGE will be using all the information to develop and debut new programs and resources to provide tools to talk about these families, spark open dialogues within families and communities about donor insemination, and equip both COLAGErs and parents to navigate schools and other institutions.

There are two surveys, one for COLAGErs born through donor insemination and one for their parents. Both the surveys will be available online between now and November 30th. Each survey will take between 15 and 20 minutes to complete. If you have any questions about surveys or the ART Project in general, please contact Jeff DeGroot, COLAGE Fellow at jeff@colage.org.

Survey for LGBTQ identified parents with a donor conceived child:
http://tinyurl.com/parentdisurvey

Survey for people born through donor insemination with a LGBTQ identified parent:
http://tinyurl.com/colagerdisurvey

Friday, November 20, 2009

Equality in the News November 13th-November 20th

Today is National Transgender Day of Remembrance. Let’s remember those who were killed or took their own lives due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. This day of remembrance originally began to honor Rita Hester whose 1998 murder started “Remembering Our Dead,” since then this day has grown to publicly honor those we have lost. -Jennifer

State

2009 Conference & Gala

This past Saturday Equality NC Foundation held its third annual Conference & Gala in Greensboro. The event brought together over 300 local and state activists and advocates. Over a dozen riveting educational workshops, and participant-led caucusing and networking took place and covered LGBT issues on college campuses (including a focus on Historically Black Colleges & Universities--HBCUs), legislative processes, same-sex parenting and the law, state hate crimes law, employment non-discrimination and more. During the plenary, Executive Director Ian Palmquist discussed the successes of the year. He spoke on HIV/AIDS drug assistance, the passage of the Healthy Youth Act, and how friendly legislators--backed by concerned citizens statewide--were able to block an anti-LGBT constitutional marriage amendment for the sixth year in a row. By far, the greatest achievement of the year came when the General Assembly passed the School Violence Prevention Act! Footage from the opening session on Pam's House Blend.

During the Gala, Equality North Carolina honored Senator Julia Boseman with the Legislative Leadership Award. Stellar young activist, Kate Mabe, was also honored with her family. Watch the highlights, again courtesy of Pam Spaulding. Thanks, Pam!

Thanks to everyone who came out to the Conference & Gala! The day was certainly one to remember and I appreciated meeting the many allies/advocates/supporters/volunteers/interns that I did. You all are truly wonderful.


The High Cost of Bigotry

Denying rights doesn't come cheap in our state. Had the Marriage Discrimination Act gone through last legislative session, it would have cost taxpayers over five million dollars (that's five with six zeros!) to put equal rights to a popular vote. Blue NC breaks it down, and includes links to the bill, facts and figures.

Nation

A Day to Remember

There are a number of trans-specific stories this Transgender Day of Remembrance. Here's a portion of them from Colorado, New York, California, Canada (just pretend that's in the "World" section), Illinois, and Utah.

“Some” Equal Benefits in New York…

On Thursday, New York’s top court prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public facilities based on gender identity and expression. The city joins 16 municipalities in Florida who have already adopted similar measures.


Equal Marriage Ban not allowed on D.C. Ballot

On Tuesday, the Board of Elections and Ethics ruled that a measure to let voters decide whether to ban equal marriages in D.C. cannot go on the ballot because it would violate the city’s 1977 Human Rights Act. What a novel idea! The D.C. City Council is expected to approve equal marriage, but of course opponents still wanted voters to weigh in (why is that not surprising). The D.C. bill is set to have its first vote on December 1st. The bill must be voted on twice before passing.


The Blade Will Rise Again?

The Washington Blade closed this week, but its staff have vowed to publish a revived edition (the DC Agenda), investigating how the paper shut down so quickly and who was behind the decision.


Rhode Island Opens Door (Slightly)

Governor Don Carcieri (R) has opened the door to the limited recognition of equal relationships in Rhode Island. Governor Carcieri still opposes equal marriage and stated during the 2006 elections that he also opposed civil unions.
What took Carcieri to wake up and turn down the road of “sort of” equal rights for all?
Carcieri and an LGBT rights group had a closed door meeting Thursday, where he told reporters that he would “consider creating a domestic partnership system,” similar to the one approved by voters in Washington state. The system would allow LGBT couples benefits such as the right to use sick leave to care for a partner, rights related to the adoption of a child and child support.


World

Philippine LGBT Group Fights to Contest Elections

Recently, Philippine LGBT rights group, Ang Ladlad (Out of the Closet) has found itself caught in a legal battle to be allowed to run in next year polls. The Elections Commission ruled that the group cannot registered on the grounds that the group, “advocates immorality.” The rulings cited passages from the Bible and the Quran condemning homosexuality.


Charge Filed in Puerto Rico Murder

On Wednesday, charges were filed in the murder of 19-year-old Jorge Steven Lopez whose body was found last week. U.S. authorities said they are still considering whether to make it a hate crime case. Lopez was known as a college student volunteer for organizations advocating HIV prevention, LGBT rights.

Reports state that 26-year-old Juan Martinez Matos was arrested earlier this week and confessed to killing Lopez. He is currently jailed on a $4 million bond. Matos allegedly killed Lopez after mistaking Lopez for a female prostitute.


Finally on the Right Track

Caster Semenya will keep her gold metal, title, and prize money from an 800-meter race in August world championship, and results of her "gender verification" test will be kept private.



That’s the news briefs for this week. Since we’ll all be stuffing our faces with turkey (or a similar vegetarian or vegan-friendly main course), I’ll be taking a break from reporting on Equality news briefs. I’ll pick back up in December!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

TDOR, the international Transgender Day of Remembrance

This Friday, November 20, is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. TDOR was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the Remembering Our Dead web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s murder — like most anti-trans murder cases — has yet to be solved.

Although not every person represented during the Day of Remembrance self-identified as trans (that is, as a transsexual, crossdresser, or otherwise gender-variant), each was a victim of violence based on bias against transgendered people.

The purpose of the day is to raise public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people. Transgender Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honors the lives of transgender people who might otherwise be forgotten. TDOR gives transgender people and their allies a chance to step forward and stand in vigil, showing love, respect, and solidarity, and memorializing those who’ve died by anti-transgender violence.

Transgender Day of Remembrance can be used to educate students, teachers, and administrators about transgender issues, so we can try to prevent anti-transgender hatred and violence from continuing.

Ways you can observe TDOR include:

• Candlelight vigils and/or marches
• Discussion forums with activists, politicians, and/or school officials
• Performance art
• Poetry or spoken word readings
• Visual representation of the number of deaths with:
  • Cardboard tombstones of Remembered People
  • Paper cutouts of Remembered People
  • Chalk body outlines of Remembered People

• Teach-Ins and Speakers Bureaus
• Art/photo displays
• Trans movie screenings (such as “Boys Don’t Cry”)
• Trans 101 trainings

As with any awareness-raising day, it's not an end unto itself. TDOR is a tool towards the ultimate goal of the elimination of bigotry and prejudice against transfolks. It's important to use this day as a starting point for discussion and education. The work of TDOR can be continued by:
• Working to add “gender identity and gender expression” to laws and school antibullying policies
• Having a Trans 101 training for workers and educators
• Working to have some restrooms designated as gender neutral
• Collaborating with others on trans issues and teaching them how to be trans allies

For more information, go to the International TDOR website or the Gay-Straight Alliances Facebook Page. For a list of resources, go to this page from the Remembering Our Dead site.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Let's Hear It For The Boys (and Girls)! Honoring Our LGBT - and Straight Ally - Veterans

This Veterans Day, we're honoring and celebrating our LGBT veterans (and our straight allies), who have served and protected our country. This is especially noteworthy since the armed services have a history of discrimination against gay troops, culminating in the current decade-and-a-half old "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy.

In 1993, President Clinton suspended the existing Department of Defense policy which banned gay personnel from military service. However, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and influential members of Congress vehemently opposed the President’s attempt to permanently lift the ban. This led to six months of intense Congressional and Administration discussions and hearings on the issue. The end result was the infamous "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" law.

Under DADT, the military would not inquire about the sexual orientation of current and future service members. The law also said that gay men and women would be allowed to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces unless they declared they are gay, attempted to marry a person of the same sex, or engaged in homosexual conduct. Service members who were discovered to be homosexual would be subject to dismissal.

DADT policy has failed to live up to its intended goal of serving the best interests of the military while respecting the privacy and dignity of its gay servicemembers. Approximately 13,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and straight servicemembers have been abruptly fired from their jobs with the U.S. military as a result of the policy. DADT has been consistently misunderstood, misapplied, and grossly abused, and the policy now functions in a state of arbitrary enforcement that is inconsistent with the needs of the military and with the principles of sound public policy.

Servicemembers United has released new data showing that racial and ethnic minorities constituted an unusually large percentage of discharges under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law in Fiscal Year (FY) 2008. The full press release can be found here.

There is, however, great hope of change coming:
DADT is a wasteful, discriminatory policy rooted in bigotry and ignorance, but we can - and will - end it. In the meantime, take this day to honor your LGBT servicemembers.

(GLAAD has a media kid of Veterans Day ideas and resources. HRC and Servicemembers United are sponsoring the Voices of Honor tour.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Putting the Positive in HIV+

One generally doesn't associate HIV/AIDS with good news - over a million Americans are estimated to be living with HIV, and worldwide an estimated 33 million people are living with HIV - but there's been some positive activity around this disease.

World AIDS Day will be next month on December 1, as usual. This year's theme is 'Universal Access and Human Rights.' Here're some good resources for helping to get the word out:
On October 30, President Obama reauthorized the Ryan White Act, which continues this invaluable federal program that provides funding and assistance to people with HIV/AIDS. You can read his full statement here.

One especially bright point was this excerpt, which announced the end of the unreasonable HIV/AIDS travel ban:

"Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS. Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of this disease -- yet we've treated a visitor living with it as a threat. We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic -- yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country. If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it.

And that's why, on Monday my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year. Congress and President Bush began this process last year, and they ought to be commended for it. We are finishing the job. It's a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it's a step that will keep families together, and it's a step that will save lives."


Finally, just last week French researchers published the successful findings of a revolutionary gene therapy that used a disable version of HIV to treat a fatal brain disease. This development is amazingly exciting(/scary!), and a great example of making lemonade from the ultimate lemons.

There's still a ways to go in removing the stigma from HIV/AIDS and developing treatments, but by spreading information and raising awareness, we all contribute to an eventual cure.

(And we still encourage you to get a Red Ribbon specialty license plate to help raise awareness and support the Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolinas.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Equality in the News October 31st-November 6th

Happy November to everyone! I’d like to first congratulate ENC’s executive director Ian Palmquist for being elected board chair of the Equality Federation!!! This is quite an honor and we’re proud of you! -Jennifer



State

Marriage Equality for All

On Oct. 22nd, North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., held a forum on marriage equality that was sponsored by NSCU’s GLBT Student Center & the Union Diversity Activities Bard. Panelists for the event included Kate Kendall, Tracy Hollister, Jimmy Creech and ENC’s executive director, Ian Palmquist (yay for Ian!). During the event Ian discussed the issues of marriage, legal protection, and the definition of marriage facing each state individually. Ian stated that North Carolina has been more progressive than other Southern states, but still lag behind many other states in the rest of the country that are advancing the rights of the LGBT community.

Chapel Hill Elects Openly Gay Mayor

On Tuesday, Mark Kleinschmidt was elected as Chapel Hill’s mayor. He will become the third openly gay man to hold mayoral office in North Carolina. Kleinschmidt is a leading civil rights and LGBT advocate in North Carolina. He is also the former board president of North Carolina’s ACLU chapter and the former board member of Equality North Carolina. Kleinschmidt’s platform calls for better public transportation, community development, centralized urban growth rather than sprawl and environmental protection. Congratulations to (soon-to-be) Mayor Kleinschmidt.


Nation

The LOSS in Maine

By now, you’ve probably heard about results on Maine’s marriage referendum. Many LGBT activists blamed scaremongering ads and President Obama’s lack of engagement. Activists insisted that Obama should have spoken out forcefully in defense of Maine’s marriage law before Tuesday’s referendum. The law was repealed in a vote of 53 percent to 47 percent. Many California activists stated that the outcome in Maine strengthened their belief that it will fall on the U.S. Supreme Court, not the voters, to make equal marriage legal. A federal lawsuit challenging Prop. 8 is scheduled to go to trial in January. Although the loss in Maine is disappointing, it isn’t the end. The fight isn’t over for Equal Marriage.

State Benefits Won in Washington

In other relationship recognition news--this time far better news--voters in Washington chose to move closer to equality by approving Referendum 71, known to many as "everything but marriage."

Work, Stay, and Live in Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo became Michigan's 16th city to approve an ordinance protecting individuals from employment, housing, and public accommodation discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Way to go, Kalamazoo!

New York Governor Calls for Session on Budget, Equal Marriage

Recently, NY Governor David Paterson made the decision call the Legislature back to Albany for a special session to cut the budget and possibly vote on legalizing same-sex marriage. The Governor wants the Senate to give final legislative approval to same-sex marriage; however, there are no guarantees that there are enough votes to carry the measure, which has already passed in Assembly. Paterson’s agenda includes addressing a deficit of more than $3 billion with midyear cuts to school aid and health care, among other measures.

Yet Another Study

This just in: Same-sex couples are similar to straight couples! (That's sarcasm you hear from me.) The study at UCLA, based on data collected by the 2008 American Community Survey, found that the highest percentages of same-sex spouses in 2008 were found in the Northeast (Massachusetts and Vermont). No surprise there, but it's worth noting that Utah and Wyoming rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in number of same-sex couples. The study also found that, contrary to what conservatives will tell you, same-sex couples live, work, and raise children much the same way as their opposite-sex counterparts. Bravo to UCLA for bringing this to a wider audience’s attention.

World

UN Panel Faults Russia’s Support for Human Rights

This past Friday a new U.N. Human Rights Committee recognized that Russia is still struggling with human rights abuses, with the rights of its LGBT citizens being one of them. Although homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in the 1990s, the panel noted ongoing violence against LGBT Russians, including police harassment. I hope Russia is able to come to terms with these issues so that every citizen feels comfortable in their community.


Well, that’s the wrap up for the week! I hope everyone continues to have a great weekend. Don’t forget Next Saturday November 14th, is Equality North Carolina’s Conference and Gala. Click here to learn more. I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

We'll Be Back, and We'll Win

Waking up this morning to the news that Maine voters narrowly approved a measure overturning the marriage equality law passed by the legislature was a kick in the gut. The memory of California's Prop. 8 last year is still fresh.

My thoughts go out to all the families in Maine who will continue to be denied dignity and equality under the law. Many of us will need time to grieve over the fact that a majority of our fellow citizens would vote to deny lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people their full civil rights.


And yet, I'm also encouraged by what happened in Maine. Just under half of voters — tens of thousands of people — voted for marriage equality. While it wasn't enough, let's not forget that just fifteen years ago, few Americans had even heard of the concept of marriage equality for same-sex couples.

We've come a long way fast. And, despite the heartbreaking setback of yesterday's vote, the momentum is still very much on our side.

I also find hope in the phenomenal campaign that the
No On 1 team ran. They talked one on one with tens of thousands of voters. They put the faces and stories of same-sex couples and families at the forefront. They engaged leaders from local elected officials to the Governor in the fight for marriage equality.

We even had a number of Equality North Carolina supporters who went up to Maine to help out, and many more who made calls to Maine voters from their homes.

Of course, after some time to grieve, we should look at what worked well and what could be done better next time. But I suspect that in the final analysis we'll see that the work No On 1 did won over thousands and thousands of voters to our side.

The state just wasn't quite there yet. But it will be.

A little history: Maine voters went to the polls four times to vote on nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation. The first three times they rejected it. But Equality Maine didn't give up, and the state legislators who believed in fairness didn't give up. Now it's the law of the land.

We've got to keep fighting in Maine and in every state.

Yesterday, voters in Washington state approved comprehensive domestic partnerships, and in Kalamazoo, Michigan, voters rejected vicious attacks on the transgender community to support the city's nondiscrimination ordinance.

New York and New Jersey have a real chance of passing marriage equality legislation this year. The Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect many workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, could become law in the next few months.

All of that's going to take a lot of hard work.

Rest assured, if we do that work, we'll win marriage back in Maine, California, and, eventually we'll win our full civil rights in states like North Carolina and the whole nation. We know how to do it.

I'm in it to win it. Are you?



Monday, November 2, 2009

What About The Children? National Adoption Month!

My partner and I adopted our son through the foster care system here in North Carolina, so today's blog topic is a big deal to me.

November is National Adoption Month, celebrated throughout the United States in an effort to finalize adoptions from foster care, and to celebrate all adoptive families. (National Adoption Day falls on November 21st this year, the Saturday before Thanksgiving).

This year's theme for National Adoption Month is "Answering the Call - You don't have to be perfect to be a perfect parent."

(The 2009 focus is also more toward the African-American community. A disproportionate amount of kids in the foster care system are racial minorities.)

There've been some really positive legal developments for gay parents in the state recently. Now is a great time for LGBT folks to adopt, and the foster care system is a great place to look for kids who need homes and parents.

Thousands of children in North Carolina enter the foster care system each year, and range in age from infants to 18 years old. All foster children have unique backgrounds, experiences, personalities, strengths, and needs.

The NC foster care system is open to gay parents. (OK, well, technically, they're neither open nor not open.) Your actual experience will depend on any foster care agency you go through and/or the officials in any county DSS (Department of Social Services) that you deal with. We found everyone we interacted with to be extremely positive and supportive of us as a gay male couple looking to adopt - all they cared about was being sure that the kids in need found a good, loving home that could support and care for them.

During November, there are plenty of things you can do to observe National Adoption Month, either as a parent, prospective parent, or someone who has no plans to have children but wants to support adoptive families. Some ideas for this month include:

☼ Write down your family story and add it to a scrapbook.

☼ Contact your local paper about National Adoption Month, and ask them to publish a positive story about adoption.

☼ Contact a children's organization or foster care agency and ask how you can help.

☼ Create your family tree. Complete one about your child's birth family (if information is known) as well as your adoptive family.

☼ If you have one, ask your place of worship to offer a special prayer for children in foster care waiting for adoption.

☼ Watch a movie with an adoption theme.

☼ Donate books about adoption to your local or school library.

See Celebrating National Adoption Month for 30 days of these kind of ideas.

Last time I went bowling with the local gay dads group, I thought it was hilarious that most of the people there had had their children biologically through an ex-wife. Apparently the old-fashioned way of having kids is also the new-fangled way for gay parents!

Still, there are already thousands of children out there who need homes, and foster care and adoption are great ways to form your family.

(And if you're thinking about having kids or are already a parent, the Family Equality Council is a great resource.)

Adoption is a great way to make a positive impact in a kid's life, and it's also an investment in the future for yourself, LGBT folks, the country, and society as a whole.

It's easy to think that you won't be a good parent, but I can guarantee you that having you as a parent will be hundreds of times better than having no parent at all.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Equality in the News October 23-30

Apologies for the late posting of this edition of Equality in the News, everyone! Blogger and Word were not playing nicely together. :) -Rebecca

Happy (early) Halloween Everyone! My has the time really been flying lately, before you know it will be November and you know what that means? Turkey, yes, but more importantly Equality North Carolina Foundation’s Annual Conference & Gala, which this year will be held in Greensboro. There’s still time to register, if you haven’t done so. You don’t want to miss it, there will be many exciting workshops and speakers! -Jennifer


State

A Local Take on Federal Hate Crimes Legislation
Our own Ian Palmquist was interviewed for a story on President Obama's signing of federal hate crimes legislation on News Channel 14. We're very proud of him, and also of the fancy new banner you see behind his head during the interview. :)

Hometown Minister Makes Good!
Reverend Gilbert H. Caldwell, a native of Greensboro and graduate of North Carolina A&T, has been elected to the PFLAG national board of directors. Rev. Caldwell is a founding member of United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church, Black Methodists for Church Renewal, and the Church Within a Church Movement.


Nation

Obama keeps his Promise
This week President Obama signed a bill to include violence against members of the LGBT community in federal hate crimes law. The expanded law also covers crimes motivated by gender identity or disability. Obama has also expanded some of the federal benefits of same-sex partners, but not health benefits or pension guarantees. He has allowed State Department employees to include their partners in certain embassy programs available to married spouses.

Maine Governor Urges Residents to Vote for Equal Marriage
On Tuesday Maine Governor John Baldacci urged residents to vote against repealing Maine’s equal marriage law, while acknowledging his past opposition to gay marriage. Baldacci admitted to once preferring civil unions to equal marriage. Baldacci comments, “I came to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.” Rev. Bob Emirch states, “Politicians have had their chance to speak; now they just need to step aside and let the people make their decision.” Let’s hope that decision is for equal marriage.

We "Count"
The 2010 Census, for the first time, will include the opportunity for people in same-sex relationships to be counted. While it's nice for the government to "see" our community during the Census, these numbers will be invaluable to LGBT groups whose funding depends on having accurate demographic information, as well as to those who claim that no LGBT folks live in their communities.

Brazilian Husband of Massachusetts Man denied US Asylum
A Brazilian man has been denied asylum by the Obama administration and will not be reunited with his Massachusetts husband. Apparently, attorney General Eric Holder did not act on a Friday deadline in the case of Genesio “Junior” Oliveria effectively denying the 30-year-old Brazilian man’s request for asylum in the U.S. on humanitarian grounds. Since 1994 sexual orientation has been grounds for asylum in the United States after a ruling by (then) Janet Reno. Dozens of asylum seekers have won asylum on that ground according to immigration equality.

US Attorney Starts Job in Washington
America’s first openly gay U.S. Attorney started her job in Washington this week. “I don’t think I can fully appreciate how important it is to many people to have someone in a role like this who is gay,” Jenny Durkan, the new U.S. attorney commented. LGBT rights activists state her appointment reflects a growing acceptance in the U.S. as well as the attitude of President Obama’s administration. Kudos to Durkan for her new role as a U.S. Attorney!

Thank YOU for Being a Friend, Bea
You may know her as Dorothy Zbornak or Maude Findlay, but also remember her as a friend to the LGBT community. Bea Arthur included a $300,000 donation to New York's Ali Forney Center, an organization supporting homeless LGBT youth. The organization plans to use the funds to help purchase a residence for young people. I wonder: will it also have a lanai and a bottomless supply of cheesecake in the fridge?


World

Argentina Considers Equal Marriage
Recently, there has been a growing number of equal marriage supporters in the Argentina congress, which has opened debate on whether to change dozens of laws that define marriage as a union between a “man and a woman." It remains to be seen whether or not an equal marriage law has enough votes to overcome opposition from religious groups. The Roman Catholic Church remains a driving force in Argentina. Let’s hope Argentina sets a great example for the rest of Latin America by passing an equal marriage law!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Voting for Gay Families Around the Country!

Next week's elections will have quite a reach for LGBT families in other parts of the country, which will ultimately affect ours. From Maine to Washington to Kalamzoo, here's what's happening:

  • MAINE - REJECT QUESTION 1
In Maine, voters are going to the polls to weigh in on Question 1, a citizen's veto of the state's marriage equality law. Signed by Governor Baldacci on May 6 of this year, the law was scheduled to take effect in September, but was delayed when opponents collected enough valid signatures to place it before voters. If you know folks in or near Maine, please be sure to get them to vote early, take the pledge to protect equality, and volunteer time/resources to help get the community (the whole community, not just the gay community!) to vote in support of marriage equality for all.

  • KALAMAZOO, MICH. - APPROVE ORDINANCE 1856
Voters in Kalamazoo, Mich., are being asked to approve an amendment to the City Code of Ordinances to prohibit discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment based on a variety of enumerated categories including an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity. Because all people - including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people - deserve to be treated fairly and equally wherever they may live or work, if you know someone who lives or works in/around Kalamazoo, have them support this.

  • WASHINGTON - APPROVE REF. 71
Voters in Washington State face Referendum 71, which is a vote to keep the domestic partnership law that provides legal protections for same-sex couples and seniors who are in committed relationships. If you have friends or family in or near Washington State, please tell them to vote early. You can spread the word, pledge your support online, and join a broad coalition to support equality for all Washingtonians.

A decade or so ago, this sort of legislative activity would have been unimaginable. The time are changing, though, and we can make sure the changes are positive, towards equality and fairness.

The road to equality in North Carolina goes through Maine, Washington, and yes, even Kalamazoo.

Monday, October 26, 2009

It's Not Just Rihanna and Chris Brown ... LGBT Domestic Violence

When it comes to domestic violence in the LGBT community in NC, these are the headlines you see ....

Getting help is hard for gay domestic violence victims, Winston-Salem Journal, September 17, 2008

Domestic protection lacking for same-sex couples, Durham Herald-Sun, March 20, 2007

Domestic Violence is when two people get into an intimate relationship and one person uses a pattern of coercion and control against the other person during the relationship and/or after the relationship has terminated. It often includes physical, sexual, emotional, or economic abuse.

Any violence taking place within a family or intimate relationship is domestic violence. It includes abuse of spouses, girlfriends and boyfriends, children, and elderly people. Domestic violence cuts across all socioeconomic, ethnic, racial, religious, and age groups.

While members of both the gay and straight communities can obtain domestic violence protective orders against partners if the pair shares a residence, gay couples who do not live together are not entitled to the same protections (according to Chapter 50 of the N.C. General Statutes).

(Inequity for gay folks - what else is new? Equality NC is working with the NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence to change this law.)

In addition to legal barriers, if a gay person isn't out to their family, they won't turn to them for assistance. And LGBT people have the added stigma resulting from societal gender stereotypes. Plus many domestic-violence programs may not be suited for victims in same-sex relationships (e.g., a man in a same-sex relationship might not be able to stay at a shelter, which in many cases is for women and children).

However, there are still some good domestic violence resources out there for LGBT folks. In the summer of 2003, the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCCADV) began a new initiative aimed at addressing domestic violence in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender relationships. The initiative, Project Rainbow Net (RPN), is a grassroots effort based on the insight of an advisory council made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who have an understanding of domestic violence in LGBT relationships and a desire to end it.

Here are some great information links from them:

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Federal, state, and community organizations for violence prevention and victim services, businesses, health care providers, and others do educational programs, have recognition and memorial ceremonies, and perform community outreach.

According to the NCCADV, the rate of domestic violence within LGBT relationships is the same as in straight relationships. There are always options and choices when it comes to domestic violence, whether it's for yourself or a friend or family member.

Education and communication are always the first steps in making things better.