One Birthday, One Reception and Some Very Hard Work

June 30, 2009

Julian, Kate, and Shannon

I am back at my desk after a whirlwind—and pretty much last minute—trip to Washington, DC with my 13-year-old son, Julian. When an invitation to attend a reception at the White House arrived last week, my spouse Sandy and I talked and agreed that Julian—whose 13th birthday was on Saturday, June 27—should be the one to accompany me. Some months ago, Julian had said that for his “milestone 13th birthday” he wanted to do something he had never done before. (To which I raised an eyebrow of parental concern and figured I’d better take the lead in planning such adventures.) But never in our wildest dreams did we imagine what that adventure would turn out to be.

We landed in DC late Sunday night, June 28, after a six-hour delay out of SFO. (Shout out here to the “family” we bonded with on the plane, Kathy and Laura and our fabulous flight attendant Matt.) We had a late dinner with Sandy’s long-time friend and Julian’s god-father Richard, and the next morning took the Metro to the Smithsonian and walked to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. It was a beautiful day in DC, and Julian was pretty awe-struck by seeing these sights “for real.” After a quick lunch with Julian’s grandparents, Patsy and Andy, we went back to our hotel to get ready for the event that had brought us across the country.

With Julian in a borrowed suit and new tie and me in my dyke best, we arrived at the White House and met up with NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter and his wife Robin. We chatted with many of the other guests as we waited to pass through the security checks. I saw many old friends and current colleagues. As we stood in the East Room of the White House, I’m sure I speak for many when I say how incredible it felt to see first-hand the rooms and locations we had only ever read about or seen on the TV news.

Julian, based on his age and the generous spirit in the room, got a front-row spot, right next to the small stage and Presidential podium. When the President and First Lady emerged from the Green Room into the East Room, they made their way up the aisle shaking hands and greeting folks. As they stepped onto the stage they both saw Julian and shook his hand, the President saying “Hi there buddy, how you doing?”

I was struck by several things in the President’s comments. First, he acknowledged the frustration of our community at the pace of the Administration’s efforts on behalf of full equality and an end to discrimination. Second, he said that he expected to be judged on actions and not words—“not by the promises I’ve made, but by the promises that my administration keeps.” Finally, he committed to working with Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and Hate Crimes legislation (Judy Shepard and her husband Dennis were in the room). He did not set a timetable for any of these commitments, and I deeply wish President Obama were just a bit less orthodox. He clearly wants a tipping point of consensus on these issues, and particularly with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” his leadership now in at least issuing a “Stop-Loss” order would be entirely justified and a demonstrable action to back up his inspiring rhetoric.

It was clear to me that the President believes in full equality as a core value, a human value. That fact is reassuring. It is also clear that we as a community must continue a relentless drumbeat, insisting that the President act NOW to do all he can to make that commitment to equality a reality.

The work we do now will be every bit as important as the work of the Administration. Traveling to Washington reminds me that activism is the key to achieving civil rights in this country. The energy and time and money we all spent electing President Obama and a fair-minded Congress were only the first step. Now is the time to take the next activist step. We must dig in to do some work, for what we need done in Washington will not happen by magic, with this President or any other.

I am not talking about cocktail party activism or in-the-street activism, though I have done both and am not opposed to either.

Right now, this summer, constituent activism is key in Washington. We must press both the Administration and Congress to act swiftly to repeal laws that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and our families, and to enact laws that treat individuals and our families fairly and with dignity and respect.

The pressure directed to the President over the past few weeks has been essential and in my view, quite frankly, we should keep that up. The Obama Administration needs to hear from us. Over the coming weeks, NCLR will help you make your voice heard—by the Administration and Congress. Next week I’ll give you specific action items to help move our President and members of Congress.
In the past couple of weeks we have already seen some small steps. By holding this event marking the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, the President conveyed to the nation that we are all engaged in a decades-long struggle for civil rights, for fair treatment, and equality under the law. The White House reception provided a platform for the President to reiterate that he is an advocate for our community, that he understands the pain and damage done by government-sanctioned discrimination. Now he must act—really act—to end that pain and insult.

My son is still basking in the glow of meeting the President and hearing him speak. He, as a 13-year-old bi-racial kid, with both an African-American and a white lesbian mom, believed the President’s words. He sees this man as a champion for his family and other families like his. I profoundly hope that my son’s image of this President will not be tarnished by half-measures and inaction. Right now Julian thinks he got about the best 13-year-old birthday any kid could ever get. Please Mr. President, honor his trust.


Open the Military Closet

June 30, 2009

by Richard Cohen | The Washington Post

Back during the initial fuss about “don’t ask, don’t tell,” I went over to the Pentagon to see the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We mostly discussed the situation in the Balkans and the pressure on President Bill Clinton to militarily intervene. Then I asked about gays in the military and the chairman, who was opposed, asked me what I thought the reaction would be if two male soldiers took to the dance floor at some military base. No different, I answered, than if a black man danced with a white woman at the same base about 50 years earlier. Colin Powell seemed taken aback and I thought, naively, that “don’t ask don’t tell” was doomed.

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A Mother’s Love

June 29, 2009

An Interview With Kim Pearson, Executive Director Trans Youth Family Allies, Inc., by Jim Koury

Kim Pearson is Executive Director/Co-Founder of TransYouth Family Allies (TYFA) and National Board President of PFLAG-TNET. She first directed her energy into GLBT support, advocacy and education as the founder and president of her local PFLAG Chapter when the youngest of her three children came out as lesbian in 2005. Eighteen months later she found herself facilitating that same child’s transition to living life as a young man. Fueled by her passion for ensuring respect and equal rights for children like hers she co-founded TYFA, the first and only national organization that supports, educates and advocates exclusively for gender variant and transgender children. In its short history TYFA has provided support to over 100 families, and training to hundreds of GLBT organizations, service professionals and government officials all over the United States. TYFA and their families have been featured on several local/national radio programs, national/regional television and numerous print articles.

JK: Transgender is a term many don’t understand very well and is part of the acronym LGBT that is not discussed much and is often misunderstood. The term “transgender” has evolved through the years, so can you explain the term and what it encompasses.

KP: Honestly, I can’t. If you ask 50 different people what it means you will likely get 50 different answers. Here is one from Wikipedia: a general term applied to a variety of individuals, behaviors, and groups involving tendencies that diverge from the normative gender role (woman or man) commonly, but not always, assigned at birth, as well as the role traditionally held by society.
In our work we feel it is important to define and explain the difference between ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’. We give a very simplistic definition as we are often talking with people who have no prior knowledge of this topic. With that in mind we tell them: sexual orientation is who you like and gender identity is who you are. For some people this results in understanding for the first time.

read more (pdf)

Domestic Partnership Protections in Wisconsin!

June 29, 2009

Great news from Wisconsin! We just got word from our friends at Fair Wisconsin that Wisconsin will become the first state in the nation with an existing constitutional amendment banning marriage equality and civil unions to enact domestic partnerships today when Governor Doyle signs the biennial state budget. The bill grants important and limited protections to same-sex couples in caring, committed relationships, including hospital visitation and the ability to take Family Medical Leave to care for a sick or injured partner. This makes Wisconsin the first state in the Midwest to legislatively enact protections for same-sex couples – putting the state whose motto is “Forward” back on a progressive track with this important step towards equality.

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ENDA Introduced, Contact Your Representatives!

June 29, 2009

Last week, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) as H.B. 2981. You can read the full text of the bill here:

This historic bill has bipartisan support in the House, but we need your support to make it a reality. Please take action NOW to contact your representatives and urge them to support this crucial piece of legislation that protects all workers.

In D.C., make their phone ring!
Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202.224.3121 and have them connect you to your representative (based on your zip code). Tell your Representative:

I am a constituent and I would like you to please tell Representative _______ that I strongly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

Set up a visit!
Request an in-person meeting for you and other community members with your representative (or their staffs) in their home district offices. You can call the district offices to request these meetings but they often want you to fax a meeting request. To find contact info for district offices, go to

Sample meeting request letters, and other talking points and resources for your meetings, are available in the following toolkits (pdf):

Let us know!
Let us know how your correspondence went. Go to and fill out the Lobby Report Form to tell us whether your representative expressed support.

Federal Legislation Wrap up from National Center for Transgender Equality

June 26, 2009

This has been one of the busiest weeks we’ve ever had at the National Center for Transgender Equality, with forward progress on a number of issues that could have a positive impact on the lives of transgender people. It is an exciting time to be in Washington advocating for transgender equality.

Because we’ve been throwing lots of information at you over the past few days, much of it on the fly from committee rooms, meetings and hallways on Capitol Hill, we wanted to end the week with a clear summary of what is going on.

The positive steps here are only possible because of the work we are doing together; the great education and advocacy being done by you — transgender people and our allies across the country — and the work happening face to face here in Washington.

read more about federal legislation here

HIV Travel Ban To Be Lifted

June 26, 2009

by Kerry Eleveld |

The first step to ending the HIV travel ban in the United States has been taken by the Obama administration. The Office of Management and Budget posted a notice on its site Friday afternoon indicating that the department of Health and Human Services could move forward with steps to change a regulation that has restricted HIV-positive people from gaining entrance into the United States.

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