The Stonewall Inn in New York City, now the centerpiece of the country’s first national monument to LGBT history.
The Stonewall Inn in New York — birthplace of the modern gay rights movement — is now a national monument, President Obama announced today (Friday, June 24).
That makes the Stonewall National Monument in New York City the first addition to the country’s national parks system specifically highlighting the history of the LGBT community, according to reports by NPR News.
NPR notes: “The monument covers nearly eight acres in New York’s Greenwich Village including a landmark gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. In June of 1969, gay patrons at the bar fought back against police persecution — an event that’s widely seen as a watershed in the campaign for LGBT rights.”
The Stonewall Riots are the reason that we celebrate June as National Gay Pride Month each year. The first “gay Pride parade” was held a year later to commemorate the riots.
In announcing the designation, President Obama said: “Raids like these were nothing new, but this time the patrons had had enough. So they stood up and spoke out. The riots became protests. The protests became a movement. The movement ultimately became an integral part of America.”
Watch the video of the president’s announcement below.
LGBT Equality Day
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin
In related news, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, D-WA, this week introduced a resolution to designate June 26, as “LGBT Equality Day,” honoring the anniversary of three significant victories won at the U.S. Supreme Court for the LGBT community.
The resolution points to the courts decisions in: Lawrence v. Texas, handed down June 26, 2003, overturning the Texas sodomy laws and others like it around the country; United States v. Windsor, handed down June 26, 2013, overturning Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and requiring the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages performed in jurisdictions where those marriages were legally recognized; and Obergefell v. Hodges, handed down June 26, 2015, mandating marriage equality nationwide.
“America should celebrate the progress we have made to pass on to the next generation a country that is more equal, not less equal,” said Baldwin, the first open lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate. “But we cannot mistake our progress for victory. We have more work to do in the march for fairness, freedom and full equality for the LGBT community. I believe America is ready to take the next steps forward and together we will break down barriers so that every American has an equal opportunity to dream the same dreams, chase the same ambitions, and have the same shot at success.”
DelBene added, “In the last two decades, our nation has seen the Defense of Marriage Act overturned, an end to the criminalization of same-sex conduct and now nationwide marriage equality — all through Supreme Court decisions handed down on June 26. But even as same-sex couples enjoy the right to marry in all 50 states, LGBT people continue to face violence, inequality and discrimination simply for who they are and who they love.
“Our resolution designates the 26th of June as ‘LGBT Equality Day’ not only to celebrate how far we’ve come, but also to acknowledge how much work remains to be done,” she added.
The resolution is co-sponsored by more than 175 members of Congress and is supported by the Center for American Progress, the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund and the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, above, encouraged public schools to tell President Obama that they “reject his 30 pieces of silver,” and to ignore suggested federal guidelines for protecting transgender students. (Tammye Nash/ Dallas Voice)
Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
“This is a matter of public safety.”
That’s what Texas Values policy analyst Nicole Hudgens said this morning on Dallas’ Fox 4 News about the battle over bathrooms raging across the country, and right here in North Texas in the Fort Worth Independent School District.
And you know what, Nicole Hudgens is right. Only, not in the way she claims.
On Tuesday (May 10), Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick showed up in Fort Worth for a press conference condemning the comprehensive guidelines Superintendent Kent Scribner issued in late April explaining the process for implementing FWISD’s 2011 anti-bullying policy related to transgender students.
Early this morning (Friday, may 13), the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter offering guidance for schools nationwide on how, specifically, to prevent discrimination against transgender students. And Patrick, in Dallas for the Texas GOP Convention, hopped right up to hold another press conference in which he declared that the question of what bathroom or locker room transgender children are allowed to use at school is “the biggest issue facing families and schools since prayer was taken out of the schools.
(Point of fact, Lt. Governor: Prayer organized by faculty/staff in which all students are required to participate is not allowed in public schools, because it discriminates against those who have different religious beliefs from the majority. But no one has taken prayer out of schools. Student-led events with voluntary participation, like the See You at the Pole events, are certainly allowed. And go to any class on any test day, and I can guarantee someone there is praying!)
Patrick when on to declare that the letter — letter containing suggestions, not policy; but then, Dan Patrick doesn’t know the difference between a policy and a guideline, either — is “the most damaging domestic policy [President Obama] has put forth, and that’s saying something with this president” who enacted “Obamacare.”
Patrick ramped up the fear-mongering rhetoric even higher then, saying that the president is stealing food from the mouths of poor children since the federal dollars that could be withheld from schools that don’t protect transgender children is used primarily for free meal programs. The president is “attacking parents,” Patrick claimed, and forcing 14-year-old girls to shower with 14-year-old boys.
Patrick also noted that he’s telling all the school superintendents in Texas that the letter is not law, just “a recommendation with a threat,” and that they should ignore the letter from the U.S. Department of Education and not implement any of the suggestions. Don’t compromise, he told them, and don’t worry, those evils feds “are not coming and taking our children” on his watch.
The lieutenant governor urged Texas schools not to take “Obama’s 30 pieces of silver,” and not to let the president “blackmail” them. Just hold on until Donald Trump’s in the White House, because President Donald will know what to do!
Oh, and one more thing: The U.S. Department of Education sending a letter to schools with suggestions on how to protect transgender children is a government overreach and the federal government trying to meddle with local control. But Patrick descending on Fort Worth to insist that the local school district superintendent resign and the board repeal its anti-bullying policy is justified because these bathroom battles are “a state and a national issue.” And anyone who questioned the validity of him interjecting himself into FWISD business is a hypocrite.
He said more in his Friday morning press conference, but that’s the main gist of it: Federal over-reach … blahblahblah … coming for our children … blahblahblah … blackmail … blahblahblah … hypocrites … blahblahblah … and on and on.
But here’s the fact of it all: He is full of crap. So is Nicole Hudgens. Because as much as they and their ilk want to insist that this “isn’t about transgender people,” it is.
It’s totally about how a bunch of bigots don’t like transgender people because they don’t understand transgender people, and they don’t like the gays and lesbians anyway, and they are pissed off the homos can get married now but there’s nothing they can do about that because of the Supreme Court, so they are going after the trans people now because they are the easiest target.
They are trying to turn trans people into the big, scary, snarly monster in the closet — or in this case, in the bathroom — that’s just waiting for you to turn out the lights so they can come rushing out to rape their wives and eat their children. Why? Because when there is a monster, you have to have a monster-slayer, and people like Dan Patrick and Nicole Hudgens want people to think they are the heroes who will kill the monsters and keep them safe.
Except, in truth, they are the monsters.
But Nicole Hudgens, as I said at the outset, is right about one thing: This is a public safety issue. It’s about the safety of transgender people — men, women and children — who have, indeed, been and remain easy targets for discrimination, hatred and violence.
Take this stat, for instance, which Resource Center reminded me off this morning in a press release praising the letter from the Obama administration: According to the 2013 Texas School Climate Survey conducted by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network), 60 percent of students surveyed have experienced verbal harassment over their gender identity art school. And 23 percent of that harassment came from school staff members.
About one in eight — one in eight, people! — transgender students report having been physically assaulted at school, although most of the incidents went unreported because the students didn’t think anyone would take them seriously or do anything to protect them. And a national study conducted in 2007 indicated that more than half of all trans youth have attempted suicide at least once by the time they turn 20.
(Of course, Dan Patrick noted Tuesday that only about 1 percent of the FWISD students are transgender, implying that that’s not enough to warrant taking action to protect them.)
Nell Gaither over at Trans Pride Initiative today sent a statement praising the letter as well. And in her statement, she cited the 2011 study, “Injustice at Every Turn,” which found that nationwide, 78 percent of students expressing a trans identity or gender nonconformity in school face discrimination. Of those, 35 percent reported being assaulted, including 12 percent being sexually assaulted.
The rates in Texas, according to the study, are similar or higher: 85 percent experiencing harassment, 46 percent being physically assaulted and 9 percent experiencing sexual assault.
The study went on to note that trans and gender non-conforming adults have an overall lifetime attempted suicide rate of 41 percent, but that increases to 51 percent among those who have been harassed, 64 percent for those who were physically assaulted, and 68 percent for those who were sexually assaulted.
Last year, at least 21 transgender people were reported murdered in the United States. The actual number was likely much higher, because many such murders go unreported and/or the victims are misgendered in police and media reports.
From 2013 to the end of 2015, 53 transgender people were murdered, and not a single one was prosecuted or reported as a hate crime, according to a report by Human Rights Campaign.
Attempted suicide rates as high as 68 percent; 53 people murdered in two years. Yes, Nicole Hudgens, protections for transgender students are definitely a public safety issue. But it’s the safety of the transgender people that’s at risk, not yours.
It’s time you and Dan Patrick and all the self-involved and bigoted haters out there figure that out.
When President Barack Obama delivers his final State of the Union speech tomorrow night (Tuesday, June 12), the man whose name has become synonymous with marriage equality in the U.S. will be watching from the First Lady’s box seats.
Jim Obergefell was the lead plaintiff in the historic U.S. Supreme Court case that the court decided last June 26 in favor of equality. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley — lead Senate sponsor of the Equality Act — invited Obergefell to attend the State of the Union address as his guest. And this morning (Monday, Jan. 15), the White House announced that Obergefel will sit in the First Lady’s box for the event.
The Equality Act is comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation that would extend federal non-discriminaion protections to LGBT people in key areas, including employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, credit and education.
Merkley said his is “honored” to have Obergefell attend the State of Union address as his guest, adding that “Jim’s love and commitment to his husband and his pursuit of justice should serve as an inspiration to us all. Now, we must finish the work that we have started and ensure that LGBT Americans have full equality in all aspects of their lives.
“It’s incomprehensibly wrong that in many states, a couple could marry in the morning and legally be evicted from their apartment or kicked out of a restaurant in the afternoon,” Merkley continued. “No one knows better than Jim that we have come a long way, but as we have seen with the recent attack on marriage equality in Alabama, it’s more important than ever to keep pushing for full equality. I’m pleased to have Jim with me this week to highlight both the tremendous progress we’ve made and the important work that’s left to be done.”
The Equality Act is cosponsored by more than 200 members of Congress, and was recently endorsed by President Obama.
A total of 23 LGBT activists arrested in February for protesting at the Idaho Statehouse were sentenced today on charges that included misdemeanor trespassing, and ordered to pay court costs based on the number of times they were arrested during ongoing protests calling for Idaho legislators to add protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s Human Rights Act.
Idaho State Police made more than 190 arrests by the time the legislative session ended in March. Among those sentenced today were two women who both lost children to suicide because of anti-LGBT discrimination.
Maryland offers trans employees improved health benefits
FreeState Legal Project announced today that the state of Maryland has removed language from its employee health benefits policy denied coverage to transgender state employees for transition-related health care. The state made the change as part of settlement of a legal claim filed by FreeState Legal on behalf of Sailor Holobaugh.
Obama endangers religious freedom in America (not really)
Fox News commentator Todd Starnes barely let the ink dry on President Obama’s executive order banning discrimination against LGBT people by those contracting with the federal government before he posted this “sky is falling” rant warning that the president is endangering religious freedom.
Starnes offers this quote from Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy dtudies at the Family Research Council: “This level of coercion is nothing less than viewpoint blackmail that bullies into silence every contractor and subcontractor who has moral objections to homosexual behavior.”
Lesbian tossed from water park for wearing men’s swimwear
And also from Pink News:
Jill Sweeney of Indiana believes she was kicked out of WildWater Adventure in Muskegon, Michigan on July 9 after spending only three hours at the park for her bachelorette party because she was wearing men’s swimming trunks, a tank top, and a sports bra, and because she is a lesbian.
WildWater Adventure General Manager Camille Mark said guests at the water park are required to wear swimsuits, no street clothes allowed, and that Sweeney’s sports bra was considered street clothes. She also said Sweeney’s sexual orientation had nothing to do with the situation.
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.
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.
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 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.
“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.
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 Actrepealed 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.
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.