Teaching Our Kids Not to Hate

October 13, 2010

The past few weeks have been shameful for those who abuse religion to justify their anti-gay bigotry, and devastating for our community and families that lost sons and daughters to suicide. We now face a moral challenge that we must meet.

In these past weeks, I have felt powerless to stop the rising toll. Just months into the school year, at least 10 teenagers committed suicide rather than continue to face the pain of daily harassment and the shame of being made to feel they were “wrong” or “immoral.” We know that for every one of these young people, there are countless more who suffer in schools and classrooms every day.

In the wake of these tragic deaths and in an appalling act of grown-up bullying, several anti-gay figures, including Mormon Apostle Boyd K. Packer and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, spit on the fresh graves of these young people. Spewing hate-filled rhetoric, baseless lies, junk science, and half-truths about our lives, they justified their screeds by invoking their religious beliefs.

Packer, in remarks televised as part of the Mormon General Conference, said that same-sex “tendencies” were “impure and unnatural,” and suggested that God would not make us this way. Perkins, in a column riddled with lies and discredited research (shame on The Washington Post for publishing such trash), argued that the bullies must not have been regular churchgoers because true Christians would not engage in such acts. He went on to blithely attack the integrity of our lives and the health of our relationships, and in a classic “blame the victim” deflection claimed that we are hurt not by anti-gay violence, intolerance, and harassment, but rather by simply being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. So much for living a “Christ-like” life.

These men are simply bigger bullies, and quite devoid of human decency. They spinelessly dodge the blame that belongs at their feet for trafficking in stereotypes about our lives, and for eagerly and ceaselessly supplying excuses and ideological cover for discrimination and hatred. We must hold them accountable for the damage they cause to LGBT youth with their bigotry masquerading as religious belief.

The deaths of these young people have galvanized our community and a range of allies. There has been an outpouring of support for many of the families and for other young people who may likewise be suffering, and a renewed push for accountability to address the epidemic of bullying and harassment. We must keep up the pressure. We must make sure there is lasting reform. We must reach the parents of kids who are both victims and perpetrators of bullying and forge a permanent end to this corrosive cycle. And perhaps most importantly, by speaking up and being out, as LGBT people or as allies, we must help foster a culture of greater inclusion, compassion and understanding.

In my school community, we have taken our first steps. My 14-year-old son Julian and some of his friends wanted to find a way to get a supportive word out to other kids, who may not be as lucky as they are to live in a community where difference is not feared. The result is our own It Gets Better/We are Making it Better video.

These kids are the same age as many who took their lives. That is a sobering reality. But fortunately, unlike those who exploit these tragic deaths to further their own anti-gay agendas, the kids in this video are the future. They are our future leaders. That should give us, and every kid out there, hope.

We still have much to do, and some of our most profound victories lie ahead. But we must have the faith of those who know our full humanity is worth fighting for. We will win equality. And we will win a day when anti-gay bigotry and dehumanizing statements about us and our lives are universally condemned as damaging, wrong, and utterly unacceptable. The teenagers we fight for – Asher, Tyler, Billy, Raymond, Seth, Aiyisha, Felix, Zach, Cody, and Chloe – should be fighting with us. They, more than most, earned the right to see that day. They were robbed of that moment. Our commitment must be to do all we can to ensure that they will be hate’s final victims.

Sincerely,

For additional resources on helping to stop bullying and information on suicide prevention efforts for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth, please visit:

The Trevor Project
GLSEN
Gay-Straight Alliance Network
Groundspark’s Respect for All Project films
Family Acceptance Project
Make It Better Project
Welcoming Schools


Even When You Can’t See The Scars, They Are Clearly Visible: Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

September 20, 2010

“When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

—Epitaph of Leonard P. Matlovich, the first gay service member to fight the ban on lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in the military

I have never been to war and will never know just how horrific and traumatizing it can be. I have friends and family who went to war, and what I do know is that they were never the same. Even when you can’t see the scars, they are clearly visible.

The loss of life of our service members, coupled with the staggering civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, have anyone with an ounce of humanity wishing and working for an end to these deadly conflicts. Yet, against this backdrop, we are pushing Congress for a vote to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)—ending the practice of discharging lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members.* If DADT is repealed, which many in our community have long been working to achieve, it will surely mean that more of our literal and figurative brothers and sisters will be in harm’s way. But despite that sobering reality, when the ban is finally lifted, one of the most damaging sources of political and economic harm to our community will be gone.

DADT stigmatizes us, traffics in the most offensive stereotypes, and perpetuates the notion that we cannot be trusted or counted upon to do the hardest, most risky, and dangerous work. And if that human toll were not bad enough, the ban has a devastating economic impact on those who can least afford it—because they already face discrimination based on their gender and race, as well as their sexual orientation.

Many people do not know that the U.S. military is one of the largest employers in the country, and may well employ more lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals than any other single employer. According to a study released last week by The Williams Institute, nearly 71,000 lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals are currently serving in the US military.

Many people also do not know that the impact of DADT falls most heavily on women and people of color. Even though women make up a much smaller percentage of soldiers in every branch of service, women are discharged under DADT at much higher rates than men.

In 2008, the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) reported that while women comprised only 15% of the armed forces, women made up 34% of the service members discharged under DADT. Some branches of service are worse for women than others. In the Air Force, women made up only 20% of members, yet accounted for 62% of Air Force discharges under DADT. The disparity is even more pronounced for people of color. According to SWAN, non-white active duty service members represented 29.4% of the total military population, but comprised 45% of all DADT discharges in 2008.

According to the new Williams Institute study, the disparate impact of DADT on women and minorities has only gotten worse: “It is clear that women and racial/ethnic minorities now bear a larger portion of the burden imposed by the policy than they did when the policy was first implemented in 1993.”

In my perfect world, war would never be the answer, and the military would be a fraction of its current, bloated size. But my vision is not our present reality. Excluding lesbian, gay, and bisexual citizens from the opportunity we give to any other willing individual to serve in the military serves no interest. So long as the ban continues, it will transmit the powerful message that our very existence is shameful and that we are unfit to participate as full citizens. And it will inflict the most economic harm on those who can least afford it.

Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will not lessen the ravages of war or end the gross economic disparities faced by many Americans. But it will end the cruel and counterproductive discharges of fine soldiers, and put a stop to one of the most blatant and stigmatizing forms of workplace discrimination against our community. That is a result worth fighting for.

Learn more:
•    The Williams Institute
•    Service Women’s Action Network
•   Servicemembers Legal Defense Network
•    Servicememers United
•    Palm Center

In solidarity,

*Appallingly, even if DADT is repealed, transgender people would continue to be barred from military service. Clearly, there is much work yet to be done.


Choosing Children

August 27, 2010

Twenty-five years ago, I was 25 years old and just starting law school at the University of Utah. I was parenting my daughter Emily, who was 4 years old with her mom, and my former partner, Lori. While it was uncommon for LGBT friends in our circle to be planning for parenthood, it did not occur to Lori or me that we were at the forefront of what would be termed the “gayby boom.”

Lori had been a single parent raising the then 1-year-old Emily when we met. We were just living our lives unaware of a sea-change that was just beginning when it came to issues of parenting and our community. While we were living that life, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Deborah “Chas” Chasnoff and her then life and work partner, Kim Klausner, were in the midst of writing, producing, and directing their groundbreaking film documenting this burgeoning movement. Choosing Children captured on celluloid the choice a growing number of lesbians and gay men were making, a choice that seemed both counter-intuitive and revolutionary: to become parents.

Up until this generation, most LGBT folks were parents because they had been in earlier heterosexual marriages or relationships and then divorced and come out, or vice-versa. In doing so many of them faced hostility from family and former spouses and countless numbers lost or gave up any hope for custody of their children.

Beginning in the early 1980s, a new kind of parenting began emerging. Led by lesbians, often in biological partnership with gay men, women began choosing to have children as lesbian-identified parents. Now, 25 short years later, the groundbreaking idea that lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender folks can also be parents seems, well, not so groundbreaking. In fact, it is now so commonplace that doing so is viewed by some in our community as assimilationist and pedestrian. Gotta love the march of progress.

But of course, what the fight for the right to be both LGBT and a parent is really about is the right to live a fulfilled and authentic life according to what gives joy and satisfaction to each of us. And in 1985 becoming a parent often meant rejection from both one’s family of origin and one’s chosen family in the lesbian or gay community. It also meant maintaining a pretense of heterosexuality or absolute legal vulnerability because almost every state prohibited openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from adopting, and few if any states provided any parental protections. It was a time of very little community or institutional support for you as a parent or for your child as the son or daughter of a queer parent.
Emily will be 30 next year. She is smart, lovely, creative, open-hearted, and generous. I can hardly believe I have a daughter who is near 30 years old. But then I also can hardly believe the progress we have made in the short time my oldest has been alive. Seeing Choosing Children again was inspiring for many reasons but most of all, it made me really stop and appreciate how far we have come and how much we owe those who blazed this trail uncertain of the terrain ahead of them. Filmmakers Chas and Kim, the parents featured in the film, our own founder Donna Hitchens—who provided legal expertise and commentary—did not intend to be pioneers, but they were, and we are all much better off because of the choices they made.

So please join us for the upcoming Choosing Children 25th Anniversary Screening and Reception, a film that is now a crucial and transformative story of our movement. Our evening together promises to be a celebration of how far we have come and a promise to not end our quest until every family is valued and safe.

Choosing Children 25th Anniversary Screening and Reception

What: Choosing Children 25th anniversary celebration to raise funds to permanently preserve this historical film on DVD
When: 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 14, 2010 (Program begins at 7 p.m.)
Where: Herbst Theater, 401 Van Ness, San Francisco, CA
Cost: $25 (regular admission); $10 (student admission)
Learn more!

Sincerely,


Ted and David’s Most Excellent Adventure

August 16, 2010

In the weeks leading up to the Proposition 8 trial, much was made in the media, blogs, and everyday conversations about the unlikely duo leading the legal challenge against the shameful California ballot measure that stripped marriage from same-sex couples.

The two, Ted Olson and David Boies, are an unlikely pairing on many levels. They are political adversaries, and famously opposed each other in Bush v. Gore. They are each high-powered and highly paid inside-the-beltway lawyers. Ted is a long-time darling of the conservative movement, a former U.S. Solicitor General and a founder of the Federalist Society. David is a Democratic Party insider and an advisor to a number of key Democratic leaders. And, finally, both are straight, and had no apparent prior interest or experience in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.

When the lawsuit was filed, the first question to each of them was, “Why?” Their eloquent statements in support of full equality for same-sex couples quickly convinced even the most dubious that their commitment was sincere. Their stunning trial presentation and utter evisceration of the arguments and witnesses of those supporting Prop 8 paved the way for the recent ruling by Judge Vaughn Walker, which methodically dismantled every tired and baseless trope ever trotted out for why same-sex couples alone should be excluded from the right to marry. The trial was a masterwork, the ruling a tour de force. As a result, the LGBT civil rights movement has jumped into hyper-drive.

This is a moment that happens in almost every major social justice movement. The community most affected, along with its closest allies, toils for years to secure key wins—measured in terms of formal equality, changing attitudes, and cultural shifts. In the past five decades the modern LGBT civil rights movement has made breathtaking advances in both law and popular culture. We have made these gains because we fought for them, and we have been joined by key allies: family members, neighbors, religious leaders, politicians, Hollywood, and business types.

All together, we have come very far. But every movement also needs a game changer – the key figure, or figures, who come, seemingly from nowhere, and step up to make our fight their fight. When that moment happens, it is something to behold. In the wake of the Prop 8 ruling, we heard the familiar hysterics from the same over-the-top folks who always show up to foam about the end of civilization. But for the first time in the wake of a major legal victory for LGBT rights, we are neither hearing nor seeing any of that from those in real political leadership positions, who have mainstream credibility. In fact, it seems eerily quiet—the noises we have heard from those quarters in the past are now muted and few. So it may be that Ted and David not only led the legal team that took down Prop 8, but may, just by being who they are, have muzzled some of the most powerful voices against us.

It remains to be seen how long this apparent detente will last. But for the moment, it seems cooler heads are prevailing. And just this week CNN released poll results showing, for the first time ever, majority support for the right of same-sex couples to marry. So maybe, just maybe, some of those who have been so quick to vilify us are being forced to think twice, simply because a man they respect, a colleague they admire, a long-time friend they look to for advice, has said, “That’s enough.” We aren’t the first and won’t be the last civil rights movement to benefit enormously from the involvement of unlikely allies, but as we savor the victory of truth over lies and reason over caricature, it is very nice to have Ted and David by our side.


S.O.M. (Save Our Magazine)

July 22, 2010

One of the great advantages of the dog days of summer, if you are lucky enough to get time away, is the chance to read for pleasure. Books and magazines get stacked up on my nightstand throughout the year and summer finally provides some time to make a dent in the stack. A few weeks ago, my family spent a week in heat and sunshine, and I spent many hours lounging with some of my reading favorites, which includes, of course, our community’s own Curve magazine.

This year Curve is celebrating 20 years of bringing the lesbian community news about and for us and our allies. Curve’s publisher and founder, the fierce and fabulous Frances Stevens, aka Franco, started Curve at age 22 because she was disappointed that there was no quality lesbian magazine in the U.S. From its humble beginnings as a ’90’s black-and-white magazine that Franco peddled on Castro streetcorners, Curve has grown into the nation’s best-selling lesbian magazine, read by more women than any other national gay or lesbian publication—all while remaining independent of corporate ownership.

For two decades I’ve relied on Curve to bring me stories and perspective that I don’t get anywhere else and I’ve always taken for granted that my magazine would arrive every month, like clockwork. But there may soon be a day when Curve doesn’t show up. Franco told me recently that Curve is in trouble. The economy has hit publishing hard, we all know that. Many newspapers and magazines have folded in the downturn. We know that being in this business is tough right now, but our community needs Curve to survive. There is no other national lesbian-focused magazine left. Curve is the last one. Our last magazine devoted to our lives, our loves, our culture, our future.

You can help save it. We hope. For the price of two weeks of coffee drinks at Starbucks, you can get a year of Curve. But new and renewed subscriptions may not be enough. So if you have the means and the interest to help Curve through this rough patch, you can make a contribution here. If we all step up and do what we can, it may be enough to keep alive this community treasure.

Next summer when I pack my bags with my favorite reads, I want that bag to include copies of our lesbian magazine.


Solicitor General Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court

July 16, 2010

The Senate Judiciary Committee is likely to vote on Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s nomination to the United States Supreme Court early next week, sending it to debate and a final vote by the full Senate. Perhaps now more than ever,  our nation’s high court will play a critical role in determining the place of LGBT people in our society. This year, the National Center for Lesbian Rights was counsel in one case before the U.S. Supreme Court—Christian Legal Society v. Martinez—and participated as an amicus in another, Doe v. Reed. In both cases, the Court issued favorable decisions. In Martinez, the Court affirmed the validity of anti-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation. In Reed, the Court rejected an attempt by anti-gay groups to make it easier for voters to pass laws targeting LGBT people and other minorities. In the next few years, the Court likely will hear cases addressing the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and, possibly, of Proposition 8, the anti-marriage amendment enacted by California in 2008. The stakes for our community couldn’t be higher.

General Kagan has been nominated to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, who has been a champion for equality and the rights of minorities and women in a number of key cases, including several cases specifically addressing the rights of LGBT people. General Kagan is undoubtedly well qualified to serve on the court, having served in one of the highest positions at the Department of Justice and as a widely respected legal scholar and dean of Harvard Law School. We fervently hope that she, too, will prove to be a strong defender of the core democratic principles of freedom, equal justice, and equal protection of the laws.

To help you get to know General Kagan, we’ve collected some materials that present a variety of viewpoints on her distinguished career, judicial philosophy, and numerous accomplishments (including a few more critical voices to show some of the opposition’s arguments).  This is but a small sampling of the information available about the nominee, but these sources give a sense of her impressive credentials.

1.    From the White House Blog: Elena Kagan: “Supportive Of the Men And Women Who Are Fighting To Protect Us”:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/05/17/elena-kagan-supportive-men-and-women-who-are-fighting-protect-us

2.    From the United States Senate, Committee on the Judiciary: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees:
http://judiciary.senate.gov/nominations/SupremeCourt/upload/ElenaKagan-PublicQuestionnaire.pdf

3.    From Alliance for Justice
a.    “Supreme Court Watch: The Kagan Nomination”:
http://afj.org/check-the-facts/supreme-court-watch/
b.    Report on Elena Kagan:
http://afj.org/check-the-facts/supreme-court-watch/report-on-kagan-final.pdf
c.    Report on Elena Kagan’s Testimony:
http://afj.org/check-the-facts/supreme-court-watch/report-on-kagan-testimony.pdf

4.    From the American Civil Liberties Union: Report on the nomination of Elena Kagan:
http://www.aclu.org/organization-news-and-highlights/report-american-civil-liberties-union-nomination-elena-kagan

5.    From the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy: Elena Kagan Confirmation Hearings Resources:
http://www.acslaw.org/node/16061

6.    From Art Leonard, Professor of Law, New York Law School: “The Kagan Appointment and the Question of Judicial Experience”:
http://newyorklawschool.typepad.com/leonardlink/2010/05/the-kagan-appointment-and-the-question-of-judicial-experience.html

7.    From the Human Rights Campaign: “HRC Endorses Solicitor General Elena Kagan for Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court”:
http://www.hrc.org/news/14608.htm

8.    From the Justice at Stake Campaign: “Replacing Justice Stevens”: http://www.justiceatstake.org/resources/replacing_justice_stevens.cfm

9.    From the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights: “Obama Nominates Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court”:
http://www.civilrights.org/archives/2010/05/971-kagan-nomination.html

10.    From the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: “NAACP Endorses Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan”:
http://www.naacp.org/press/entry/naacp-endorses-supreme-court-nominee-elena-kagan/

11.    From the National Partnership for Women and Families: “A Superb Choice, Kagan Will Impress All Senators With Fair and Open Minds, Women’s Leader Says”: http://www.nationalpartnership.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=25003

12.    From the National Women’s Law Center:
a.    “NWLC Endorses Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan”: http://www.nwlc.org/details.cfm?id=3896&section=newsroom
b.    “NWLC to Testify in Support of Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan:” http://nwlc.org/details.cfm?id=3902&section=newsroom
c.    “The Supreme Court: Why it Matters to Women”: http://www.nwlc.org/pdf/WhyItMatterstoWomen.pdf

13.    From New America Media: “Kagan’s Affirmative Action Achilles’ Heel”:
http://newamericamedia.org/2010/05/kagans-affirmative-action-achilles-heel.php

14.    From the New York Times:
a.    “Obama Picks Kagan, Scholar but Not Judge, for Court Seat”: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/11/us/politics/11court.html
b.     “A Climb Marked by Confidence and Canniness”: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/10/us/politics/10kagan.html
c.     “Kagan Promises ‘Modest’ Approach”: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/29/us/politics/29kagan.html

15.    From the Washington Post:
a.    “Confirm Elena Kagan”:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/03/AR2010070302694.html
b.    “Foes may target Kagan’s stance on military recruitment at Harvard”: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/17/AR2010041701296.html

Who sits on the bench makes a difference, at every level of court, but especially on our nation’s highest court.  For our democracy to endure, we must have justices who reflect the diversity of our country and who have an unflinching commitment to the principle that every person is entitled to be treated as an equal, respected, and participating member of society.

For all of these reasons, next week’s Senate Judiciary Committee  vote on General Kagan is key.

In solidarity,


Meet Harold and Clay

April 20, 2010

The response to the horrific story of Clay Greene and Harold Scull has been very gratifying and inspiring. Clearly, their story struck a chord in all of us. To some degree we can’t help imagining ourselves in exactly this situation. Forty-eight hours ago, few people knew their names, and now a Facebook page in their honor has more than 5,000 fans. Quite simply, this case demonstrates how our relationships as LGBT people are so fragile, especially when we reach our later years. Just one small incident, in this case a fall down some steps, sends the world crashing down.

Harold and Clay were in a committed relationship for twenty-five years, and they lived together for twenty years. Both Harold and Clay had worked in Hollywood and were passionate collectors of film memorabilia. Harold had worked for MGM studios in the 1950s and was a favorite of Louis B. Mayer in the studio’s heyday. At the same time, Clay worked in television with many popular stars of that period. In addition to his film industry career, Harold was an accomplished artist and avid collector, especially of Mexican and Central American Santos religious art and artifacts. Art, heirlooms, and memorabilia graced the walls of their leased home, in which they planned to live together until their deaths.

Several folks have commented about the legal status of Clay and Harold’s relationship. These tragic events began in April 2008, one month before the California Supreme Court’s historic marriage ruling. By the time the California Supreme Court ruled and marriages began for that brief six months, Harold was already hospitalized and Clay imprisoned in a nursing home. The two men had not registered as Domestic Partners, and they may not have even known that option existed.  But they had filled out all the paperwork that attorneys advise same-sex couples to create, including wills and powers of attorney for health care.

In every case our clients are human beings, and they are not perfect, which is why we all identify so fiercely with those we represent. At the time of Harold’s fall he had already been experiencing some degree of mental impairment, and had been drinking. He fell down the stairs and became angry when Clay wanted to call an ambulance because he was afraid of what the result might be. (And as it turned out, he had good reason to be.)   The paramedics who arrived on the scene suspected the possibility of abuse. But that suspicion was false. What happened over the next two months is when the nightmare truly began. Once Harold was released from the hospital to a nursing home, the county refused to tell Clay where Harold had been placed, forced Clay into a nursing home where he did not need to be, auctioned all of his possessions, including treasured and valuable works of art and family memorabilia, and took away his two beloved cats. The level of inhumanity is staggering.

After 25 years of a rich and shared life of devoted commitment, a couple at least deserves being able to be at each other’s bedside at the last moments of life. Not only was Harold denied that comfort, and Clay denied the ability to be there to say goodbye to his life partner, but Clay was stripped of everything that mattered and gave him stability in his life.

We can’t change what happened to Harold and Clay, but we can do what we try to do every day: to create a world where what happened to Harold and Clay never happens again.

Sincerely,


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