LGBT leaders disappointed over what Obama did not say in speech

Obama

President Obama

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama spoke of a nation working on issues such as marriage equality and earning the respect of other nations “because we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation.”

But while LGBT leaders expressed appreciation for those references, most voiced considerable disappointment over what he did not say.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said the president was “right to urge Congress to fix our broken immigration system this year, create more jobs, equal pay for women and the restoration of the Voting Rights Act.” And she praised his announcement to sign an executive order to increase the minimum wage federal contractors must offer their employees. But, she added, “The irony is that some LGBT federal contract workers will get a pay raise, but they could still be fired for who they are and who they love.”

“The longer the president waits, the more damage LGBT people will face,” Carey said. “Discrimination is a painful reality that is too often the lived experience of LGBT people.  The Ppresident has to act when Congress won’t.”

Tico Almeida, founder and leader of the Freedom to Work group, also expressed frustration.

“President Obama should have challenged the House Republicans to allow a vote” on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), Almeida said. “It’s disappointing that he has still not included LGBT workplace protections among the issues he will handle through executive order as part of his ‘year of action.’ Both ENDA and the LGBT executive order would have fit perfectly into the themes of this address.” 

Lorri Jean, executive director of the nation’s largest LGBT community center and health facility, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, praised Obama for saying “many important things about equality, or the lack thereof.” But she, too, noted he said “nothing about the fact that no federal law protects LGBT people from employment discrimination, let alone equally harmful forms of discrimination.” 

The White House did issue to reporters a long supplemental statement in conjunction with the State of the Union address, and that statement did note that, “Today, federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and disability.”

“It’s time to add sexual orientation and gender identity to that list, so that no American worker can lose his or her job simply because of who they are or who they love,” said the statement. “The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would provide strong federal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers.  Last year, a bipartisan majority of the Senate passed ENDA, and the President renews his call for the House to do the same.”

But Jean said, “I’d be happier with [the supplemental statement] if it came last week or even next week” rather than in conjunction with the State of the Union address.

“It’s almost as if he didn’t dare to say it when the whole country was watching, but they put it out to quell any criticism from our community,” said Jean. “It just seems odd.” 

Asked to respond, the White House said, “The State of the Union isn’t a comprehensive list of all of the President’s positions or priorities.  The President has long supported ENDA, and its inclusion in our fact sheet reflects the president’s belief that Congress needs to act.  It’s time to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of categories protected by federal law against employment discrimination. No American worker should lose his or her job simply because of who they are or who they love. Last year, a bipartisan majority of the Senate passed ENDA, and the president renews his call for the House to do the same.”

Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, was unimpressed with the president’s speech, calling it “more of the same.” He, too, dinged the president’s speech for what it lacked.

While the president’s calls for a more equal nation are welcome, there is a profound irony in the absence of any mention of [ENDA],” Angelo said.

LGBT activists have been, since the beginning of Obama’s first term, pressuring the White House to issue an executive order barring sexual orientation discrimination by federal contractors. Others have urged him to speak out more forcefully for ENDA.

Coincidentally, the Movement Advancement Project, in releasing its biennial assessment of the LGBT civil rights movement Tuesday, noted that the “top 50 federal government contractors (81 percent) include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies.”

Even the Human Rights Campaign, one of the LGBT community’s strongest supporters of Obama, could not hide its disappointment.

“The President’s message tonight failed to address the needs of LGBT workers looking for a fair shake in this economy,” said HRC President Chad Griffin in a statement issued after the address. “Not only was there no call for the House to pass a federal law to protect LGBT workers nationwide, President Obama also sidestepped his commitment to take action where Congress has left off, leaving out an order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors. Unfortunately, President Obama missed a real opportunity to use the State of the Union to improve the lives of LGBT people by taking immediate executive action to address anti-LGBT discrimination for the millions of Americans employed by federal contractors.”

As in past years, Obama included an openly gay person among the special guests joining the first lady in the House gallery during the State of the Union address. Tuesday night it was Jason Collins, the National Basketball Association player who, last year, became the first male player in a major American team sport to come out as gay.

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

—  Steve Ramos

Jarrett, Holder vow to fight anti-gay bullying, hate crimes at White House conference in Arlington

Holden-Jarett

UNITED FRONT | U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett were keynote speakers Tuesday during the White House LGBT Conference on Safe Schools and Communities at the University of Texas at Arlington.

ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

ARLINGTON — Hundreds of Texas educators, politicians and LGBT activists attended the White House LGBT Conference on Safe Schools and Communities to hear about the Obama administration’s efforts to fight bullying and prevent hate crimes and to discuss local progress.

The conference at the University of Texas at Arlington on Tuesday was the third in a series of eight LGBT conferences hosted by the White House and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The first conference Feb. 16 in Philadelphia focused on LGBT health, and the second in Detroit on March 9 focused on LGBT housing and homelessness. The next five conferences are expected up until the end of June.

Two hour-long morning panels opened the conference, bringing together local, state and national leaders to discuss efforts to ensure safe schools and communities.

White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett was then introduced by Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns, who told the story of how his “It Gets Better” speech in 2010 about being bullied and beaten up when he was 13 attending Crowley High School gained national attention.

“It changed my life in ways I could’ve never imagined, and it changed my life for the better,” Burns said of the video.

Burns added that Tuesday was also his 19th wedding anniversary with his husband, J.D. Angle, and he’s proud to “have a president and an administration that celebrates with us, one that gets us and one that actually honors our relationship.”

Jarrett called Burns “a leader in the fight against bullying,” and said efforts in Fort Worth and Dallas schools helped bring the conference to the area. She assured local leaders that the administration would help them.

“I know that you still face tremendous challenges as you implement your new policies and create an environment where those policies are fully embraced by the community, but you’ve already made great progress, and I know that working together, there are even better days ahead,” Jarrett said.

Recognizing the handful of students who attended, Jarrett asked them to stand, honoring them for their “courage and willingness to stand up for what’s right.”

Jarrett then shared personal stories of meeting others who had championed for change, such as Judy Shepard, who was set to speak at the close of the conference this afternoon, and Tammy Asberg. Shepard is the mother of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student killed in an anti-gay hate crime in 1998.

Jarrett said she met Aaberg last year and heard her story of how she found her 15-year-old son Justin after he’d killed himself from the torment he’d received in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin student district for being gay. Aaberg now advocates for anti-bullying efforts.

“It’s people like Joel, people like Judy, people like Tammy who inspire President Obama, who motivate him, and who make him determined that his administration will do everything possible to fight for safe schools and safe communities for our children,” she said.

Saying that change rarely happens in Washington, Jarrett told the audience how Tempest Cartwright “changes the world around her” every day, bit by bit, and she called for the 18-year-old Oklahoma student to stand up. Jarrett explained how Cartwright refused to allow bullying in her high school to overcome her, pressing forward after losing friends and facing bullies to quadruple the size of the Gay Straight Alliance.

Jarrett said the administration has issued guidance to schools, colleges and universities to clarify that civil rights laws apply to bullying, and has helped states craft anti-bullying bills.

“Schools have not just a moral responsibility, but a legal responsibility to protect our young people from harassment,” she said, adding that the Obama administration supports the Student Non-Discrimination Act, federal legislation that would prohibit anti-LGBT harassment in public schools.

Jarrett then explained the resources and partnerships that have grown out of the fight against bullying.

Facebook launched a $200,000 digital citizenship research grant that rewards people who use technology to prevent bullying. MTV’s “Over the Line?” app allows students to share their bullying stories and combat those who instigate hateful environments in school.

And even Lady Gaga, who Jarrett met recently, launched the Born This Way Foundation.

“Every day we’re striving to do our part to make progress and I believe that day by day, step by step, we will change not just our laws and our policies, but our behavior, our attitudes, our tone, so that every young person is able to strive at school without worrying about people bullied,” she said.

Speaking after Jarrett, U.S. Attorney Eric Holder explained that the conference series is designed “to help shine the light on some of the unique challenges lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals face.”

Holder said the administration has “created a record we can all be proud of” in terms of protecting LGBT rights and “a sense of momentum that today we stand poised to build upon.”

“This morning I’m proud to join you in affirming a very simple truth and renewing this administration’s commitment, as well as my own, to an essential idea that no one, no one, deserves to be bullied, harassed or victimized because of who they are, how they worship or, and hear it when I say it now, or who they love,” Holder said.

Equal opportunity and equal justice under the law “are anything but novel concepts,” Holder said. “They are written into our founding doctrines.”

Since its creation in 1957, Holder said the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has been examining the motivation behind violent acts. The Department of Justice set a record last fiscal year with the number of hate crimes cases filed and the number of defendants charged, Holder said.

Since the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed by President Barack Obama in 2009, seven cases have been indicted, 24 defendants have been charged and 18 have been convicted, Holder said.

Explaining that officials are constantly investigating hate crimes including those that target actual or perceived sexual orientation, Holder mentioned the hate crime in Northeast Dallas March 13 where two men in their 20s were beaten with baseball bats by five men because they were gay.

“When incidents like this occur, we want to hear about it,” he said. “We will do everything in our power to ensure that justice is served.”

Sharing the tragic story of gay 13-teen-year-old Seth Walsh in California who hung himself in the fall of 2010 after years of physical, verbal and sexual harassment at school, Holder said that tools must be in place to prevent such incidents from happening.

Holder said the “It Gets Better” campaign is more than a slogan, but something the administration is backing up with “robust action,” like the five-year settlement with the Anoka-Hennepin school district reached March 5.

Holder called the settlement, which brought resolve for six students for the harassment they had endured for years, “a blueprint for sustainable reform.”

The administration is continuing to focus attention on LGBT youth with studies, outreach campaigns and support for the Student Nondiscrimination Act and the Violence Against Women Act, Holder said, ensuring that equal justice under the law “is a guarantee for all time and for all Americans.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the conference continued with workshops presenting solutions to the problem of bullying in schools.

Bob Kim from the U.S. Department of Education said that Title IX, usually used to require equal funding for women’s sports on campuses, also covers gender nonconformity issues.

He also explained the Equal Access Act, passed under the Reagan administration with the support of religious groups that wanted access to school facilities, is what gives GSAs the right to meet on campus.

A variety of suggestions came from attendees. A college coach said that anti-bullying training for coaches who spend several years with the same group of students should be implemented by school districts serious about ending bullying.

Several teachers talked about having to argue with their school administrations to be allowed to come to the conference. Their principals didn’t see the connection between a White House conference on bullying in schools and teaching.

Cartwright, a GLSEN student leader from Broken Arrow, Okla., introduced Shepard at the closing plenary. Cartwright described herself as “ostracized by people I thought were friends.” But she said she is getting through school with the support of her parents.

“If my mom isn’t the best mom in the world, then the next person on stage is,” she said.

Shepard closed the White House conference by telling attendees, “You are who you are. You love who you love. That’s just the way it is.”

She described herself as the token Democrat living in Wyoming. She said that when she hears anti-gay talk, she comes out to that person.

“Call them to task,” she said. “We have to come out over and over and over again.”

She said the only difference between the LGBT and straight community is who they love.

Then she asked, “How does that matter to anyone else?”

Staff Writer David Taffet contributed to this report.

—  Anna Waugh

President Obama issues memorandum on protecting LGBTs abroad

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Four days in advance of  Human Rights Day on Saturday, Dec. 10,  President Barack Obama today issued a presidential memorandum “to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons,” according to a statement just released by the White House press office.

The statement sent out by the White House includes these comments by the president:

“The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights.  I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world — whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation.  That is why I declared before heads of state gathered at the United Nations, “no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”  Under my Administration, agencies engaged abroad have already begun taking action to promote the fundamental human rights of LGBT persons everywhere.  Our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people is strengthened when we as the United States bring our tools to bear to vigorously advance this goal.”

The memorandum from Obama directs agencies to combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad; protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers; leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination; ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad; engage international organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination, and report on progress.

I give the president credit for issuing the memorandum at the same time he’s gearing up for what will likely be a tough re-election campaign during which opponents will no doubt use his stance and actions on LGBT issues against him. But I still have to point out that we as LGBT people still face discrimination and inequality right here in the good old U.S.-of-A:

• Our marriages are legally recognized at the federal level and they aren’t recognized in the VAST majority of state and local jurisdictions. We want the Defense of Marriage Act repealed and local and state ordinances and constitutional amendments prohibiting recognition of our relationships need to be overturned.

• There is still no federal protection against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and/gender expression and gender identity. Congress needs to pass — the president needs to sign — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

• Even though there is now a federal hate crimes law that includes LGBT people, as well as similar laws at many state and local levels, those laws are not well enforced.

Anti-LGBT bullying remains a deadly problem in our schools and our workplaces and on the Internet. We’ve made progress in combating such bullying, but not nearly enough. Dedicate the resources necessary to address the issue effectively.

So let’s applaud our president for the steps he has — and is — taking. There’s no doubt Obama has been more open than any other president about addressing LGBT issues and we have seen great strides forward toward equality during his administration. But there’s a long way to go yet, and we need to make sure that the president — and all our elected officials — know they can’t just rest on their laurels.

—  admin

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

President Obama: 'Change never comes [from] — or at least never begins — in Washington'

President Obama on Tuesday spoke to a group of LGBT activists who were invited to a reception at the White House in honor of National Gay Pride Month.

Above is a video, released by the White House, of the president’s remarks during that reception. And here are a few of the highlights from his speech:

“Now, look, the fact that we’ve got activists here is important because it’s a reminder that change never comes — or at least never begins in – Washington. It begins with acts of compassion — and sometimes defiance — across America. It begins when ordinary people — out of love for a mother or a father, son or daughter, or husband or wife — speak out against injustices that have been accepted for too long. And it begins when these impositions of conscience start opening hearts that had been closed, and when we finally see each other’s humanity, whatever our differences. Now, this struggle is as old as America itself. It’s never been easy. But standing here, I am hopeful. …

“Because I believe in committed — I believe that committed gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple in this country, I have called for Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.  We are pushing hard to pass an inclusive employee non-discrimination bill. No one in America should be fired because they’re gay. It’s not right, it’s not who we are as Americans, and we are going to put a stop to it.

“And finally, we’re going to end ‘don’t ask don’t tell.’ That is a promise I made as a candidate. It is a promise that I reiterated as president.  It’s one that this administration is going to keep. Now, the only way to lock this in — the only way to get the votes in Congress to roll back this policy — is if we work with the Pentagon, who are in the midst of two wars.”

—  admin

Obama issues LGBT Pride Month proclamation

Pres. Obama signs proclamation

Pres. Obama signs proclamation

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release May 28, 2010

LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER PRIDE MONTH, 2010

- – - – - – -
A PROCLAMATION

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

As Americans, it is our birthright that all people are created equal and deserve the same rights, privileges, and opportunities. Since our earliest days of independence, our Nation has striven to fulfill that promise. An important chapter in our great, unfinished story is the movement for fairness and equality on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. This month, as we recognize the immeasurable contributions of LGBT Americans, we renew our commitment to the struggle for equal rights for LGBT Americans and to ending prejudice and injustice wherever it exists.

—  David Taffet

RCD's Mike McKay on the State of the Union: 'It's time to move beyond speeches'

The following statement was just sent over by Rafael McDonnell at Resource Center Dallas on behalf of Executive Director Mike McKay:

“President Obama’s pledge to work with the legislative branch to end the misguided ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy is worthy of praise. It’s important to note, though, that GLBT Americans have heard these words before. As a candidate, President Obama said them on the stump; and just last fall, he said them at the HRC dinner in Washington. Talking is for campaigns; action is for leaders.

“The time is long overdue to move beyond speeches and put the ‘fierce advocacy’ we were promised before the 2008 elections into action. A line has been drawn in the sand: the GLBT community must hold both the President and Congress accountable for getting rid of this archaic, discriminatory policy. Audacious action and leadership are needed. We will help with the roadmap to get us to that goal.

“Regrettably, the President chose not to speak on two other issues of importance to our community: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Defense of Marriage Act. Every day, GLBT Americans here in North Texas and across the country lose their jobs for simply being who they are. Every day, GLBT Americans are denied hundreds of federal benefits bestowed on married couples. The United States of America, where we pledge allegiance to a flag that promises ‘liberty and justice for all,’ needs action and leadership on these issues – sooner rather than later.”

—  John Wright

Watch Obama sign the hate crimes bill

I know very few of us would be able to jaunt up to D.C. today to see President Obama sign into law the defense spending bill and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act included with that bill. And even if we managed to make it to Washington, it isn’t likely that they’d let us in the White House for the signing or the reception planned for later in the day.

But we can watch as history is made. The White House Web site’s live video streaming schedule for today includes the signing ceremony. Go here to see it.

And as David Taffet noted in an earlier post, the signing takes place at 1:30 CST, followed by a reception at 5 p.m. CST .

—  admin

Senate to vote on hate crimes today

The Senate is expected to vote this morning on the defense authorization bill that includes the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. The House approved the bill Oct. 8, and President Obama has said he will sign it if it passes the Senate. In other words, this could be a historic day. You can watch Senate proceedings live on C-SPAN2 by going here.

UPDATE: As of 4:15 p.m. Dallas time, the bill reportedly had passed the Senate. See Friday’s Voice for a full story.

—  John Wright

Sounds like you can check 'Husband or wife' on the 2010 Census

Back in June, we mentioned Obama wanted the census to include LGBT couples. I saw a sample preview of the 2010 Census Dallas questionnaire and got a little nervous. I was a bit unclear on how they translated gay couples into their options. The options for Persons 2 and up, living with Person 1 were “Husband or wife,” “Roomer or boarder,” “Housemate or roommate,” “Unmarried partner,” and “Other nonrelative” minus familial terms like parents, children, etc.

I asked Richard Hill, the senior public information officer of Marketing and Media Relations at the city of Dallas, what would same-sex couples living together check here. His response referred me to the Census Bureau and admittedly, I thought “runaround.”

But I was gladdened by Jenna Steormann Arnold’s official response. She’s the media specialist over at the Dallas Regional Census Center. This was her response:

The 2010 Census’ portrayal of household relationship must accurately represent existing circumstances brought about by societal, cultural, and in some cases, legal changes.  The General Counsel of the Department of Commerce recently reached a legal conclusion that reversed the policy of the previous Administration and clarified how the Census Bureau can report the growing number of same sex marriages in the United States.  The Census Bureau will release the raw relationship data from the 2010 Census that will not recode same-sex marriage as unmarried partners.

In Instant Tea’s previous post, Tammye Nash mentioned “Last summer, citing the Defense of Marriage Act, the Bush Administration announced that lawfully married same-sex couples that truthfully mark ‘married’ on their census forms would have their answers switched to ‘unmarried partners.’” Arnold’s response clearly says things have changed.

—  Rich Lopez