NCLR Applauds Senate Inclusion of Same-Sex Couples and Relief for Youth in Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill

September 30, 2010

Today, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010. This legislation, which provides many urgently needed changes to our national immigration law, protects same-sex couples by incorporating the substance of the Uniting Americans Families Act (UAFA), which would grant U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the right to sponsor their same-sex permanent partners to immigrate to the United States. UAFA has been introduced as a stand-alone bill in both the House and the Senate, and currently has 161 co-sponsors. The bill also incorporates the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for young people who have lived their entire lives in the United States and who are currently subject to deportation.

Statement from Federal Policy Attorney Maya Rupert, Esq.:

“We support the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 and applaud its inclusion of protections for same-sex binational couples. For decades, U.S. immigration law has refused to provide any way for citizens and residents who are in a committed relationship with a same-sex partner from another country to stay together in the United States. This bill would bring the United States in line with the many other countries that recognize same-sex relationships for immigration purposes. We also applaud the inclusion of the DREAM Act, which provides critically needed relief against deportation for young people who have spent their entire lives in the United States. Both of these provisions are critical to repairing our current policy and establishing a humane immigration system that creates engaged and contributing citizens. We commend Senators Menendez and Leahy for introducing an immigration reform bill that is fully inclusive and comprehensive.”


Recent Youth Suicides Show Urgent Need for Community and Public Leaders to Condemn Anti-LGBT Bias

September 30, 2010

Calls for Civility Not Sufficient

Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights urged community and public leaders to condemn anti-LGBT bullying in response to news that four teenagers reportedly committed suicide after suffering bullying and harassment because they were gay or believed to be gay. The teenagers are: Seth Walsh, 13, of Tehachapi, CA; Billy Lucas, 15, of Greensburg, IN; Asher Brown, 13, of Houston, TX; and Tyler Clementi, 18, a college freshman from New Jersey.

In 1993, NCLR became the first lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender legal organization to launch a Youth Project. Since then, NCLR’s Youth Project has worked to ensure that all LGBT young people are safe and can live openly with the support they need to reach their full potential.

Statement from NCLR Youth Project Director Jody Marksamer, Esq.:

“The deaths of these teenagers are tragic and heartbreaking, and we extend our heartfelt sympathies to their families, friends, and communities. The deaths of Seth, Billy, Asher, and Tyler are a wake-up call that we must do more to stop the harassment and violence experienced on a daily basis by millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. While calls for increased civility in our schools are well-intentioned, they are woefully inadequate to the scope and severity of this problem. When adults express negative views of LGBT people, they are sending a dangerous message that leads directly to harassment, bullying, and violence against LGBT youth. It is time for every public official, community leader, educator, and clergy person in this country to unequivocally condemn the expression of negative views of LGBT people as biased, unacceptable, and wrong.”


Part One: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

September 28, 2010

Few other Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell stories have touched me as much as the experiences of Huong Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant who signed up for the military to help pay for tuition and become the first in her family to earn a college degree.

She chronicled her experiences with a diary blog, from her journey to the United States from Vietnam as a child after the fall of Saigon, to her decision to enlist, to realizing she was a lesbian, to facing the toughest challenge of all—deciding she couldn’t live under the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

Every week through December, Huong will share her extremely personal journey, the struggles she faced under government-mandated discrimination, and, hopefully, inspire you to talk to your friends, your family, your co-workers, and tell them why you need their support to repeal this policy once and for all.

You can stay up-to-date with Huong’s blog posts by checking our blog regularly, by subscribing to our blog via email or your feed reader, or by becoming a fan of our Facebook page, where we’ll be able keep you up-to-date with every new post.

Yours,

***

By Huong Nguyen

Year: 1992

They’re taking forever to arrive—acceptance or rejection letters from colleges. Small envelopes = bad. Big = good. Or at least that’s what I’m told, because none of my family members have made it that far in their schooling yet. Mom and dad only finished high school, same with my two older sisters. And at the rate my two younger brothers are going, they, too, will suffer the same fate. So it’s up to me. No pressure.

~ ~ ~

Mom and dad aren’t exactly the stereotypical Asian parents. You know the ones—helicopter parents who would do anything and everything for their kids to excel in school. Wish my parents were more like that. Just a little. Mom and dad instead are on the opposite spectrum. A charitable description is neglectful.
I guess it’s not their fault entirely. They’ve been through a lot. You see, my dad was in the Southern Vietnamese Army during the Fall of Saigon in 1975. I was 2 at the time. He wanted to leave Vietnam with us in the airlifts, a mass evacuation of the last American forces in Saigon. We missed them, unfortunately. Think my mom and brother were in the countryside at the time.

When the Communist North took over the entire country, it was a dark period for supporters of the American forces. They were imprisoned in so-called “re-education camps.” I’m sure they sat around all day singing camp songs, playing games, and roasting s’mores. Not. As the name connotes, the camps’ purpose was to reprogram them to think properly. My dad was there. I’ve never heard him talk about it, but his silence speaks volumes.

When released, his sole mission was to leave that hellhole by whatever means possible. So he bought a small fishing boat, loaded my two older sisters and anyone else who wanted to come, and sailed away. To where? Good question. Like countless others desperate for a better life, they were hoping to sail to international waters and be picked up by anyone other than their Northern countrymen.

Some folks perished when their boats sank. Others, captured and imprisoned. Many, robbed and sometimes raped and thrown overboard by pirates from Vietnam and the surrounding countries. I can’t imagine the magnitude of despair these folks must have felt to risk their lives and the lives of their children, leaving the only home they knew, and casting their hopes and fears to the ocean.

Thank the universe that no one on my boat met such a terrible fate. After my dad and two sisters left, my mom, brother and I tried two times to escape, only to be captured and sent to refugee camps. In my third attempt—this time alone with my aunts, because my mom had only enough money to buy passage for me—our boat was boarded by pirates. I must have been 4 or 5. I recall vividly when a pirate broke the jade bracelets on my aunt’s wrists, while I sat two feet away. In my mouth, a diamond ring. My aunt’s quick thinking bought us a month’s worth of food at our next refugee camp in Singapore.

~ ~ ~

Crap! Three big envelopes. How am I going to pay for college? Parents can’t even take care of themselves, let alone help. There’s got to be a way. I’m not taking this second life for granted.
________________________________________
Huong Nguyen is an attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she resides with her wife and two children.


NCLR Applauds Court Decision Reinstating Major Margaret Witt to the Air Force

September 24, 2010

Today, a federal district court judge in Tacoma, Washington held that the discharge of Air Force flight nurse Major Margaret Witt under the federal government’s policy barring lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from serving openly in the military violated the United States Constitution. Judge Ronald B. Leighton ruled that the government violated Major Witt’s constitutional rights by discharging her under the policy—popularly known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The court held that the discharge of Major Witt did not advance the Air Force’s interest in military readiness, unit morale, and cohesion. To the contrary, the judge concluded, “it was Major Witt’s suspension and ultimate discharge that caused a loss of morale throughout [her] squadron.”

Judge Leighton ordered that Major Witt should be restored to her position as an Air Force flight nurse as soon as possible.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:

“Today’s decision is the second within the past month to hold that the discharge of service members under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell serves no legitimate purpose and is blatantly unconstitutional. Major Witt’s victory underscores why Congress and the President must put a stop to this destructive and irrational policy. It is an outrage that the federal government continues to intentionally discriminate against thousands of dedicated service members based solely on anti-gay prejudice. We congratulate and thank Major Witt and her lawyers at the ACLU of Washington for bringing this landmark case.”


NCLR Applauds Court Ruling Striking Down Adoption Ban

September 22, 2010

Court Rules Florida’s Anti-Gay Adoption Law Is Unconstitutional

Today the Third District Court of Appeal in Florida unanimously upheld a 2008 Miami-Dade Circuit Court decision striking down Florida’s anti-gay adoption ban and permitting Martin Gill, a gay man, to adopt two foster children he and his partner had parented for years. Gill is represented by the ACLU of Florida. The plaintiffs presented numerous experts who testified that decades of research has proved that lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people are just as capable of being good parents as heterosexuals. The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court’s finding that the state of Florida had failed to present any credible evidence to support the ban. The Court of Appeal held that the statute, which was adopted in 1977, violated the constitutional requirement of equal protection by categorically excluding lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from adopting.

In August, NCLR filed an amicus brief describing the history of the ban in an appeal of another Circuit Court decision granting an adoption to a lesbian foster parent and holding that the ban is unconstitutional. That case is still pending before the Third District Court of Appeal, which held a hearing in that case earlier this month.

In a concurring opinion in today’s decision in the Gill case, Judge Vance E. Salter also noted a decision earlier this year by the Second District Court of Appeal in Embry v. Ryan. In that case, NCLR represented Lara Embry, a lesbian mother, who asked Florida to recognize a second-parent adoption granted in Washington. The Second District held that Florida must recognize the adoption, despite Florida’s anti-gay adoption ban.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:

“Today’s ruling, overturning the country’s only explicit ban on adoption by gay people, is long overdue. Thousands of children in the Florida foster care system need loving homes and families. This shameful law serves only to hurt children and discriminate against potential parents who can provide the love and care that all children deserve. We applaud the court’s ruling and congratulate the Gill family and our colleagues at the ACLU for this historic victory.”


NCLR Responds to Senate Failure on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

September 21, 2010

Today, the U.S. Senate failed to break a filibuster to start a debate on the National Defense Authorization Act, which contains an amendment that would enable the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the federal government’s policy barring lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from serving openly in the military.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:

“It is unfathomable that the largest government employer—the military—is able to openly discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender service members.

As long as this discriminatory policy stands, others have a green light to treat us as unequal. How can LGBT children be safe in their schools if the message from the government itself is that LGBT people can’t be trusted?

This is a wakeup call. An overwhelming majority of people in this country support the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But even with popular support, our elected officials lack the courage to repeal this blatantly discriminatory policy. This shows us that we do not have political allies who are willing to stand up for us when it counts.

Each of us must understand that there’s only one person who can determine the fate of equality for the LGBT community in this country. And that person is you. Only when every person in our community refuses to accept being treated as a second-class citizen will our elected representatives feel the pressure to end this shameful government-mandated discrimination.

Every one of us must become fully engaged in this struggle. Talk to your friends, your family, your co-workers, and tell them why you need their support for full equality. Encourage them to stay informed about the discriminatory laws and policies that hurt us, and to demand justice from the people we voted into office—and make sure you’re doing the same yourself. We must do more, and we must hold our elected officials accountable. This cannot happen again.”


Kate Kendell’s Response to the Senate’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Failure

September 21, 2010

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