Wednesday, July 28, 2010


(Thanks to ENC Communication Intern Matthew McGibney.)

In addition to being the victims of an epidemic, people living with HIV/AIDS throughout the 1980s were the target of mass misinformation, discrimination and fear. The decade witnessed a complete lack of leadership from the White House in confronting the massive public health crisis, with reverberations that continue to this day.

While people with HIV/AIDS still face prejudice in 2010, there has been a major cultural shift toward greater acceptance and understanding. One source of this shift can be found in another branch of the government, the Supreme Court.

On July 26, people with HIV/AIDS joined the celebrations of the twentieth anniversary of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), thanks to the Court’s ruling in the 1998 case Bragdon v. Abbott. Bragdon concerned an HIV-positive woman, Sidney Abbott, who was denied service at her dentist’s office after she disclosed that she was infected. Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) took up her case all the way to the Supreme Court, which eventually ruled 5 to 4 in her favor.

The decision meant that people with HIV/AIDS were covered under the ADA and could not, for example, be refused medical care, as long as the care-giver wasn’t put in danger. The Court had formally recognized the strife of the infected.

Bragdon v. Abbott was the first HIV-related case heard by the Court, and while it did not change everyone’s opinions about people with HIV/AIDS, it did legitimize their suffering in a legal setting. By extending federal legal protections to people living with HIV/AIDS, the Court struck out at the taboos of the 1980s, and paved the way for a greater understanding of the disease by the general public.

The case shows that the government does have a role in attacking prejudice. Official acknowledgment that certain things are wrong (for example, denying dental care to a HIV-positive person) can shine a light on ignorance. This light must be applied to other issues where government supported discrimination still exists, such as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the gay blood donor ban. Cultural attitudes are changing, and this shift needs to be mirrored by the government’s reaction to its own discriminatory policies.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The LGBT in UN - Queering the United Nations

(Thanks to ENC Communication Intern Matthew McGibney.)

Last week, the LGBT community gained another voice at the table in the United Nations.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is now the newest consultative organization for the United Nations after a United States-led resolution passed the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It is one of only ten LGBT organizations recognized this way.

The United States led the move to get the IGLHRC past a bureaucratic chokepoint, as 14 members of the US House of Representatives and four Senators sent letters of support to United Nations member states. As one of the participating representatives (with a lower-case “r”), Senator John Kerry earned his second mention from me in this blog, after also supporting a lift on the ban against gay male blood donors.

The IGLHRC will now be able to participate with the United Nations in a formal way, by attending meetings, presenting statements, and working with the organization and the member states on human rights issues.

This is great advance for under-represented LGBT folks across the globe, especially against the backdrop of continued state-sanctioned anti-LGBT violence and discrimination.

By accrediting the IGLHRC, it is now easier for disenfranchised LGBT people everywhere to access the human rights structures they need to protect themselves from discrimination.

It’s clear there’s a need for this when you have governments like Uganda discussing bills to use the death penalty against gay people.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bigotry in Schools is Literally Costly

Remember Constance McMillen?

Her school in Fulton, Mississippi, didn’t allow her to go to prom with her girlfriend. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) offered to help her with a lawsuit, so her school threw a fit and cancelled the prom for everyone.

Well there’s finally good news!

On July 20, the ACLU won their case against Constance’s school. As part of a settlement agreement, the Itawamba Agricultural High School will set up a non-discrimination policy that protects LGBT students, and it will pay Constance $35,000 in addition to her lawyer fees.

It won’t make up for the embarrassment of being sent to a fake prom, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Most importantly, we can only hope that it will allow Constance a way to move forward with her life.

"It means a lot to me," Constance said to CNN. "The amount of support helps me to continue with the fight."

It worth noting that here in North Carolina, our anti-bullying policy protects students from this kind of discrimination. Here’s a concrete example of a situation that could have been avoided with a similar policy in Mississippi. It’s good that they got to anti-discrimination eventually, but it’s always nicer to have it done with state-wide legislation than through litigation.

(Last year, here in North Carolina, Equality NC, together with a strong coalition of organizations and thousands of dedicated supporters across the state, overcame the odds and made history by winning passage of S.B. 526, the School Violence Prevention Act, to provide strong protections against bullying and harassment in schools, with explicit protections for LGBT youth.

This landmark law marks the first time sexual orientation and gender identity are protected in North Carolina law, and the first time gender identity is protected in the any Southern state.

For more information on NC's anti-bullying law, check out our SVPA Implementation Toolkit.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Is It Time To Take Back Pride?

(Thanks to ENC Communication Intern Matthew McGibney.)

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the first Gay Liberation Day March, one group is questioning the character of current Pride events. Take Back Pride is a New York City-based organization that thinks Pride should focus on activism and protesting and not just be a big street party.

As the group’s website says, “It’s time for us all to remember this is a march, not a parade.”

This raises an interesting question. What is the correct role of Pride? Is it a celebration of the LGBT community, or is it an opportunity to highlight and object to the continued injustices facing LGBT individuals? Is it a little bit of both?

According to the group’s website, the purpose of Take Back Pride is to remind the world that “we are not content with what we have.” It points out several areas where equality is not yet achieved, including Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and marriage equality. Equality NC deals with many issues at the state level, issues like workplace non-discrimination and HIV/AIDS funding.

Take Back Pride would like to see more people at Pride events addressing these problems, through chants and signs.

In the end, Pride is both about celebrating past successes and working towards future victories. Many of the developments that we’ve seen in the 40 years since that first march must have seemed impossible at the time. Still, there are plenty of injustices that continue to this day. By educating people, Pride participants can act as agents of change while still having a great time.

Pride can maintain its Mardi Gras atmosphere while also promoting education and acceptance. There’s no reason we can’t have both.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rating The Hating

(Thanks to ENC Communication Intern Matthew McGibney.)

This week, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) released their “Report of Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Communities.”

Overall, the conclusions of the report were not positive. The LGBTQ community had the second-highest murder rate this decade in 2009. Almost 80 percent of these victims were people of color, and most were transgender women or at least feminine in their appearance.

This comes at the same time as the economic crisis has hurt resources for LGBTQ victims. Seventy percent of NCAVP-reporting programs had budget cuts, and half had to lay off staff. (The information in this report does not even include the South, unfortunately, as there were not enough functioning programs here to collect data.)

It’s an alarming situation when violence spikes, yet our mechanisms for dealing with the victims are blunted by budgetary issues. Proponents of a culture of hate are able to impose an atmosphere of fear on an entire community. The majority of the hate murders were minorities or transgender women, reflecting dangerous positions towards race and gender.

Disturbingly, the biggest spike in anti-LGBTQ violence came in October, the same month as the passage of the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The report posits that an increase in visibility brought about by the act might have led to higher levels of harassment and discrimination. At the same time, 62 percent of incidents reported to the centers were not covered by criminal statutes. This includes harassment and intimidation against the LGBTQ community that stops short of violence.

The report calls on federal and state governments to provide more funds to anti-violence and to end discriminatory practices that bolster anti-LGBTQ feelings.

I don’t know how practical the first option is, given the economic conditions we see today, but the second option is a practical and necessary step.

We expect everyone to not harass or discriminate against the LGBTQ community, but that’s still a completely legal option for businesses and our state government. They can fire, or refuse hiring or promotions, based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity. A change of cultural attitudes is needed, and this change has to include the end of discriminatory practices by the government.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What About The Children? LGBT Homeless Youth

(Thanks to ENC Communication Intern Matthew McGibney.)

The Obama administration listened to the voices of LGBT advocates last month as it crafted a plan to attack homelessness in America.

The new plan, titled “Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent & End Homelessness 2010,” was crafted by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessnes. It addresses, among other things, the role of outreach to LGBT youth in the war against homelessness.

U.S. Housing & Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donavan said LGBT youth are often subjected to harassment that can lead to becoming homeless, as well as further discrimination on the streets.

“What I would say is so many of those at risk of homelessness are marginalized in various ways,” Donavan said in an interview with the Washington Blade. “As we’ve seen with youth, those who age out of foster care … [and] who are ostracized and targeted because of their gender identity or sexual orientation are one of the populations that are at increased risk for homelessness."

The plan came after the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition for the Homeless issued a ground-breaking report on the state of LGBT homeless youth. The report indicated that between 20 percent and 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, which is a huge problem by itself. But it's made even worse, according to the report, because they then face discrimination at many shelters, as well as anti-gay preaching at religious-based shelters.

The Obama administration plan also recognized that some of the youth were pushed from their home specifically because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, so it's not always best to try and reunify them with their families.

The LGBT homeless youth constitute an important facet of the homelessness problem in America, and it's good to see this is being addressed in a national plan and on the national level.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

ACT NOW: Call on NBC to Open Today Show Wedding Contest! Marriage Equality and Family Fairness

UPDATE, 7/9/10 - Today Show reverses course, opens contest to LGBT couples. SUCCESS! Thanks to everyone who acted!

(Thanks to ENC Communication Intern
Matthew McGibney.)

The “Modern Day Wedding Contest” on NBC’s Today Show wants to throw the perfect wedding for a pair of contestants … as long as the couple is straight. Not very modern! (Especially when you consider that the Today Show welcomed gay couples in their past “Hometown Wedding Contest.”)

The Today Show is accepting applications for its contest until this Friday, July 9. The winning couple’s wedding will be broadcast live in October, and their honeymoon will be paid for by the show. That sounds like a ton of fun, but it’s only for people who can enter “bride” and “groom” separately on the website.

Good As You noticed this quirk and brought it to the attention of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). When GLAAD contacted the show for an explanation, they got this response:

“For the TODAY show wedding, the couple must be able to be legally married in New York, which is where the wedding will take place."

As you might have realized, New York hasn't established marriage equality. But as GLAAD points out, the show is looking to award a wedding ceremony, not a marriage certificate. New York State recognizes marriage certificates from other states, including those with equal marriage laws.

Here is the problem in The Today Show's reasoning in GLAAD’s own words:

“NBC is mistakenly equating the marriage license with the wedding celebration. Same-sex weddings are entirely legal in New York State. As long as the marriage license is conferred upon the same-sex couple by another state, New York State recognizes the marriage as a fully valid and legal one. NBC’s exclusion of same-sex couples from its contest is not motivated by the law, but bias against these couples.”

GLAAD started an action campaign against the show’s actions. You can find more information on the campaign here:

Back here in North Carolina, Equality NC is gearing up to counter the myths spun by the Summer Marriage Inequality Tour (as we’ve taken to calling it) by the National Organization for Marriage, whom you might remember for their role in the passage of Prop 8 in California. The tour, which pushes for heterosexual-only marriage, will pass through Raleigh in August.

We’ll be starting a blog this summer with stories from LGBT and allied couples about their marriages, relationships, and families. Bigotry is based on ignorance, and by sharing the stories of our families, both biological and of-choice, we can show the reality of diversity and starkly show the unfairness of discrimination and how it affects us, our loved ones, and our children.

If you have a story about your family or relationship, we very much encourage you to share it with us. There are two ways you can do this:

1. You can write your story and e-mail it to Include a photo of your family, too!

2. You can record a video (with your webcam or video camera), upload it to YouTube, and then e-mail us the link. Or if you prefer, you can skip the uploading and e-mail us the video file and we'll upload it for you.

Stay tuned for more ....

Monday, July 5, 2010

International Football - No, Not That One, Or Even That Other One: Rugby!

Though the World Cup soccer tournament has captured most folks' attention, the US recently hosted another international sporting event: the Bingham Cup tournament. This is the international competition for gay ruggers. The competition was held in Minneapolis near the end of June.

(In Europe, 'football' is the term used for soccer, because soccer is so popular there it gets the more generic name. In America, 'football' refers to American Football, so 'soccer,' which is short for 'association football,' is used. 'Rugby' is the universal term for 'rugby football.')

The Bingham Cup is a biannual international, non-professional, gay rugby union tournament, first convened in 2002. The tournament was named after Mark Bingham, a former University of California, Berkeley, rugby player. Mark Bingham died in the September 11, 2001 attacks on board United Airlines Flight 93.

North Carolina sports a few rugby teams, and has even had players go to the Bingham Cup.

This year in Minneapolis, the Mayhem Rugby Football Club (RFC) hosted the tournament.

The Bingham Cup was first hosted by the San Francisco Fog RFC, Mark Bingham’s home team. That year, eight teams traveled to California to compete over two days with Fog RFC coming out on top as the tournament’s first winners. With each of the following tournaments, The Bingham Cup has become progressively bigger and better.

The Bingham Cup tournament has been hosted by Fog RFC (San Francisco), King’s Cross Steelers RFC (London), Gotham Knights RFC (New York), Emerald Warriors RFC (Dublin), and now

Winners from this year's competition were:
  • Cup Division – New York Gotham Knights RFC (A)
  • Plate Division – Los Angeles Rebellion RFC
  • Bowl Division – Sydney Convicts RFC (B)
  • Shield Division – Ireland Emerald Warriors RFC
  • Crest Division – Phoenix Storm RFC
Here're a few pictures from the competition, as well as a brief introduction to rugby vocabulary:

A scrum:

A tackle:

A line out:

A couple of group shots:

A couple of action shots:

Rugby culture is generally very gay-friendly. Rugby is incredibly butch and it's incredibly gay, in ways that overlap and in ways that are totally different. If you've always wanted to play sports but have been worried about homophobia, rugby is the way to go. Even putatively straight rugby teams are gay-positive.

Rugby is a great kind of gateway sport for the inclusion and openness of gay athletes.