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

NCLR, DADT Repeal Partners in Letter to Senators: Vote against Efforts to Filibuster, Strike or Add Amendments to the Repeal Language as it Stands

September 20, 2010

Dear Senator:

We write to urge your support for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), the current law prohibiting lesbians and gays from serving openly in the U.S. Armed Forces. Right now, one of the greatest threats to securing equality and strengthening our national security are possible amendments designed to delay and kill repeal language in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

As the recent cases of Log Cabin Republicans vs. U.S. and Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach demonstrate, DADT undermines national security by disrupting the work of well-qualified and experienced service members. A 19-year combat aviator with over 2,000 total flying hours and 25 million dollars in training, Lt. Col. Fehrenbach is now about to be drummed out of the Air Force after being outed by a spiteful civilian.

This situation not only harms military readiness but also disrespects a combat veteran’s selfless service. DADT is the only law in the country that requires people to be dishonest about their personal lives or face the possibility of being fired. Poll after poll shows that the attitudes of today’s service members have changed and they care more about their fellow service member’s ability to help in accomplishing missions than who they are as a person. Further, the American public stands with them – 79 percent, a majority of Republicans, Independents and Democrats, support repealing DADT and allowing gays and lesbians to serve with integrity, openly and honestly.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen have told Congress that it is time to repeal DADT. Adm. Mullen testified that “we have in place a policy that forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.” In addition, Gen. Colin Powell and Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, both former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former Vice President Dick Cheney, defense secretary in the first Bush administration; and retired Gen. James Jones, former Marine Corps Commandant, have all indicated their support for repealing DADT.

Furthermore, the Comprehensive Review Working Group at the direction of the Department of Defense is currently assessing how best to implement a repeal of DADT. Their report is due December 1, 2010 and the repeal language currently before the Senate states that the report must be reviewed and certified by the President, Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that repeal will not harm the military before any change in the DADT law would be enacted.

We urge you to support the Commander-in-Chief, Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and vote against any effort to filibuster, strike or add amendments to the repeal language as it stands.

Sincerely,
National Center for Lesbian Rights
African American Ministers in Action
American Association of University Women
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Anti-Defamation League
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
American Veterans for Equal Rights
Association of Flight Attendants – CWA
Campaign for America’s Future
Center for American Progress
CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers
Equality Federation
Family Equality Council
Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
GOProud
Human Rights Campaign
Immigration Equality
Knights Out: An Organization of LGBT West Point Grads and Allies
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Log Cabin Republicans
Metropolitan Community Churches
National Black Justice Coalition
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of La Raza
National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund
National Stonewall Democrats
National Women’s Law Center
OutServe
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National
People For the American Way
Pride@Work
ProgressiveCongress.org
Service Academy Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association
Service Employees International Union
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network
Servicemembers United
Service Women’s Action Network
Third Way
Truman National Security Project
United Church of Christ
VoteVets


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.


UN Chief Ban Ki-Moon Urges Repeal of Anti-Gay Laws

September 17, 2010

from the Associated Press

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has called on countries to abolish laws that discriminate against gays and lesbians.

read more


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