Lesbian among 13 recipients of Citizens Medal

Janice Langbehn

Officials with the Obama administration announced today that Janice Langbehn, the Lacey, Wash., lesbian who was denied access to her dying wife by hospital officials in Miami, is one of 13 people who will receive the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal  during a ceremony Oct. 20 at the White House.

The Citizens Medal is the nation’s second-highest civilian honor, established in 1969 “to recognize American citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens,” according to a White House press release.

Langbehn, her partner Lisa Pond and three of their four adopted children were on vacation in Feburary 2007, in Miami and waiting to get on a cruise ship when Pond suddenly became ill and had to be rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center. Hospital staff refused to allow Langbehn and the children in to see Pond, even after Langbehn had a copy of the legal documents giving her power of attorney faxed to the hospital within an hour of Pond being admitted. Pond, who had suffered a brain aneurysm, died 18 hours later without her wife and children having a chance to be by her side.

The story made headlines around the country and in June 2008, after the hospital refused repeatedly to apologize to Langbehn and her children, Langbehn, with the assistance of Lambda Legal, filed a lawsuit against the hospital, and she continued her crusade to bring attention to the injustices, highlighted by her story, that many same-sex couples face and continued to advocate for LGBT marriage and civil rights.

Throughout 2008, 2009 and 2010, the Committee for Fair Visitation at Jackson Memorial Hospital negotiated changes with the hospital regarding same-sex visitation, and although the lawsuit was eventually dismissed, in April  2010, Jackson Memorial Hospital and the committee announced major changes to visitation policies regarding LGBT patients. At the same time, the  Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospital Organizations published new guidelines addressing inclusion of LGBT patients and families in hospital visitation.

Two days after the changes were announced, President Obama called Langbehn from Air Force One to apologize for the way her family had been treated and informing her of the memorandum he had issued earlier that day instructing Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, to create a rule allowing hospital visitations for same-sex couples comparable to those of married and opposite sex couples.

—  admin

New HHS policies include LGBT people

Secy. Kathleen Sebelius

In his Memorandum on Hospital Visitation executive order, President Barack Obama not only ordered hospitals to allow patients to designate visitors regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. He also directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to explore additional steps to improve the lives of LGBT people.

The department has created an internal LGBT coordinating committee “to ensure effective coordination of LGBT-related policies and the consideration of LGBT concerns throughout HHS’s activities.”

Today, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a statement about progress the department has made in addressing LGBT issues since then.

Effective today, all HHS employees are required to serve all individuals who are eligible for the Department’s programs without regard to any non-merit factor, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

On Thursday, the Institute of Medicine released a study on LGBT health to identify research gaps and opportunities related to LGBT health.

In March, the department changed its equal employment policy “to explicitly protect against unfair treatment of employees and applicants for employment based on gender identity and genetic information.”

The hospital visitation policy went into effect on Nov. 17, 2010. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will issue new guidelines in the coming months.

The department has done several things to protect LGBT youth. HHS hosted a White House conference last month to discuss the issue of bullying. HHS rules now require that all organizations serving runaway and homeless youth be equipped to serve LGBT youth.

—  David Taffet

White House calls for coordinated anti-bullying efforts

Anti-bullying bills introduced in Congress in conjunction with White House conference

DANA RUDOLPH  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

The White House held a high-visibility conference on bullying prevention Thursday, March 10, with the president and first lady calling on parents, teachers, students, and communities to address the problem together.

Members of Congress also this week introduced several LGBT-inclusive bills designed to address bullying and harassment of students.

In his opening remarks, President Obama said the one overarching goal of the conference was “to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up.” Instead, he said, “Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people.”

The president also noted that bullying is “more likely to affect kids that are seen as different, whether it’s because of the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, the disability they may have or sexual orientation.”

Attending the event were senior administration officials and approximately 150 students, parents, teachers, advocates and others, including gay Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, representatives from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Trevor Project.

“No school can be a great school until it is first a safe school,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. And Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius asserted, “Bullying is not an education problem or a health problem — it is a community problem.”

Breakout sessions led by other administration officials discussed school policies and programs, campus and community programs, and cyber-bullying. Although there were no sessions or speeches specific to anti-LGBT bullying, the need to address it came up numerous times in breakout sessions and speeches.

Kevin Jennings, the openly gay assistant deputy secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the Department of Education — and the founder of GLSEN — said in a call with reporters that bullying has reached a “tipping point” where it “is no longer tolerable.”

What pushed it to that point, he said, was the media attention surrounding a string of five suicides last fall related to anti-LGBT bullying.

The event also served to launch the Web site StopBullying.gov, which consolidates federal anti-bullying resources for students, parents, educators, and others. On the homepage is a prominent rainbow-colored box titled “LGBT Bullying,” which links to LGBT-specific information and resources.

The conference also highlighted several private, national campaigns to address bullying, including ones from the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and the National PTA.

MTV said it would launch a new coalition — of which the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation will be part — to fight bullying and intolerance online.

And Facebook said it would soon enhance the anti-bullying resources in its online Safety Center. It will also create a “Social Reporting” system so that, when people report content that violates Facebook policies, harassing content can be removed quickly, and parents or teachers can be notified.

Already, the administration has taken several steps to address bullying:

The Departments of Education, Justice, HHS, Agriculture, Defense and the Interior formed a federal task force on bullying in 2009, and convened the first-ever National Summit on Bullying in August 2010.

• The Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools awarded $38.8 million in grants to 11 states last October as part of a new Safe and Supportive Schools program. The program requires states to survey students, family and staff about school safety issues, including bullying, and direct grant money where there is the greatest need.

• The Department of Education issued guidance to all school officials last  October, reminding them that federal law requires schools to take action against bullying — including gender-based and sexual harassment of LGBT students.

• The Department of Education issued a memo to all chief state school officers last December providing examples of effective state anti-bullying laws as a reference for developing or revising their own.

• HHS launched a Stop Bullying Now! campaign for students 5 to 18 years old, with tool kits to help youth mentor younger children about bullying prevention.

Legislation

Members of Congress also announced several pieces of anti-bullying legislation this week.

Sens. Bob Casey, D-Penn., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.,  reintroduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act on Tuesday, March 8, which would require schools and districts receiving federal funds to implement anti-bullying programs and to report data on incidents of bullying and harassment, including bullying done through electronic communication.

The programs must specifically include bullying and harassment based on the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of students and those with whom they associate, among other attributes.

A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Linda Sánchez, D-Calif., said she will soon introduce a House version of the bill, as she did last session.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J.,  on Thursday March 10 reintroduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, which establishes similar anti-bullying requirements for colleges and universities receiving federal student aid.

The bill is named after a gay Rutgers University student who committed suicide last September after two other students videotaped him in an intimate encounter with another man and broadcast the video online.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., introduce the Student Non-Discrimination Act on Thursday, which states that elementary and secondary schools must not discriminate against students on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in any program or activity receiving federal funds, or risk losing those funds.

“Discrimination,” under SNDA, includes harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  Kevin Thomas

Burns to attend White House anti-bullying summit

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will host an anti-bullying conference at the White House on Thursday, March 10. City councilman Joel Burns will attend.

Students, parents and teachers will discuss how to stop bullying with the president and first lady. They issued an invitation on facebook to join the conversation about stopping bullying at StopBullying.gov.

The president and first lady will open the meeting in the East Room of the White House. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will participate in the afternoon.

Topics listed for discussion in smaller groups include in-school policies, in-school programs, community-based programs, cyber bullying and campus-based programs.

StopBullying.gov confronts the issue of bullying against the LGBT community squarely addressing the issue on the site’s front page and linking to a section of resources that begins with a statement of rights.

A 2009 survey of 7,000 LGBT youth found that:

  • Eight in 10 LGBT students had been verbally harassed at school
  • Four in 10 had been physically harassed at school
  • Six in 10 felt unsafe at school
  • One in five had been the victim of a physical assault at school

 

—  David Taffet