NCLR Applauds President’s Certification of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal

July 22, 2011

(San Francisco, CA, July 22, 2011)—Today, President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen notified Congress that the military is ready to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the discriminatory two-decade old policy that bars lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from serving openly in the military.

Under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal Act passed by Congress in December 2010, President Obama, Panetta, and Mullen were required to certify that the plan to repeal the policy is “consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”

The certification begins a 60-day transition period before the policy finally becomes history.

Statement by NCLR’s Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.:

“This is historic. We are now living the very last moments of life under this shameful and stigmatizing policy that did nothing to advance the security or safety of this nation or any American. Many of our most able and dedicated servicemembers have suffered under an inexcusable policy of government-sanctioned discrimination. Today, they can feel some measure of solace that their sacrifice was not in vain. While more work lies ahead before all members of the LGBT community can openly serve, this is a true turning point that moves us closer to the day when our government fully lives up to the ideal of liberty and justice for all.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |

NCLR and SPLC File Lawsuit Challenging Hostile Anti-LGBT Environment for Students in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District

July 21, 2011

(Minneapolis, MN, July 21, 2011)—The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Faegre & Benson, LLP, filed a federal lawsuit today challenging the pervasive anti-gay harassment in schools within the Anoka-Hennepin School District as well as the district’s “gag policy” that prevents teachers from discussing issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

NCLR, SPLC, and Faegre & Benson filed the suit on behalf of five students who have faced severe anti-LGBT bullying and harassment while attending school in the district. It charges that the district’s gag policy perpetuated the harassment suffered by these students and others. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota after the school district failed to address the persistent abuse or repeal its discriminatory policy.

“There is something seriously wrong in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, and district officials know it,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq. “In school after school, kids who are perceived as gay are harassed mercilessly until they drop out, melt down, or lash back. This epidemic of harassment—unlike anything we’ve seen in neighboring districts—is plainly fueled by the district’s shameful and illegal policy singling out LGBT people and LGBT people alone for total exclusion from acknowledgement within the classroom.”

The lawsuit charges that LGBT students and students perceived as LGBT were subjected to anti-LGBT slurs on a daily basis and were physically threatened or attacked by peers. While many of these abuses occurred in front of teachers or were reported to school officials, school personnel almost always took insufficient action to stop the abuse.

“We are disappointed that the district fails to see the serious harm this policy is causing its students,” said Sam Wolfe, lead attorney on the case for the SPLC. “School and district officials who are entrusted with the safety and education of all students continue to ignore, minimize, dismiss, and even blame victims for the abusive behavior of other students.”

The lawsuit comes a day after Anoka-Hennepin School District officials denied any responsibility for the severe and pervasive harassment suffered by LGBT students. It was also reported on Wednesday that the district is at the center of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Civil Rights because of reports of anti-gay bullying.

The lawsuit describes numerous incidents of harassment, including the following:

  • One student faced daily verbal and physical harassment at school after classmates discovered that she is a lesbian. She reported the harassment to school officials numerous times, but the only response was an occasional verbal reprimand to the harassers. The student eventually dropped out of school and attempted suicide.
  • Another student reported chronic anti-LGBT harassment to school authorities for more than two years, only to have school officials suggest that he leave the school because they could not protect him.
  •  A third student was picked on relentlessly because he likes to wear colorful clothes and sing songs by female artists. His school’s response was not to address the harassment, but to treat him as the problem. The school prevented him from wearing “girly” clothing and made him miss class time to walk through the hallways separate from the other students, escorted by a staff member.

Two parents and a student spoke at the press conference about their own experiences with these issues. A 14-year old student discussed his experiences in the district, saying, “It got so bad that every day when my bus got to school I thought about hiding under one of the seats so I wouldn’t have to go in to school: so I wouldn’t be called names or pushed around, and so I wouldn’t have to hear the rumors other kids were making up about me.”

Jeff Frei, the father of one of the students who was persistently bullied, said, “Our son has a right to go to school every day feeling safe and accepted. This is a basic right that every child has. His older sister shouldn’t have to spend an hour waiting outside his school so she can walk him home to make sure he gets there safely. We cannot go through another school year of this and we cannot lose any more of our young people to this. Enough is enough.”

The school district’s gag policy, known officially as the “Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy,” prohibits staff from offering support to LGBT students or acknowledging the existence of LGBT people. It has played a significant role in encouraging the hostile anti-LGBT climate in the district, by imposing a stigma on LGBT students as pariahs, not fit to be mentioned within the school community—a message that comes across loud and clear both to LGBT students and their harassers. It has also limited the effective responses that teachers can provide when they see anti-LGBT harassment taking place.

The lawsuit asserts that the district’s gag policy and its failure to protect these students from harassment violated these students’ rights under the United States Constitution, Title IX, and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

The SPLC, NCLR, and Faegre & Benson began investigating the district’s policies in 2010 after several LGBT students from the district died by suicide.

Attorneys working on the case include Christine Sun and Sam Wolfe of the Southern Poverty Law Center; Christopher Stoll and Ilona Turner of the National Center for Lesbian Rights; and Michael A. Ponto, Marty Chester, Christopher Dolan, and Zack Stephenson of Faegre & Benson, LLP.

Read the complaint.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |

NCLR Responds to First-Ever Senate Hearing on Bill that Would Repeal DOMA

July 20, 2011

(Washington, D.C., July 20, 2011)—Today, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held the first-ever hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Committee members heard from several supporters of the repeal measure, including people who have been harmed because of the discriminatory law.

The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced on March 16, 2011 by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) following the Department of Justice’s historic decision to stop defending DOMA in court because it is unconstitutional. If passed, the bill—which has 27 co-sponsors—would ensure that the federal government recognizes every marriage that a state performs, including marriages of same-sex couples.

Statement by NCLR Federal Policy Director Maya Rupert:

“Today’s hearing exposed the severe burdens that this despicable law imposes on thousands of loving families across the country. Congress needs to pass the Respect for Marriage Act to end this shameful chapter in our nation’s history. DOMA harms families, stigmatizes our relationships as unworthy, and perpetuates a climate of hostility for all LGBT people, and it is long past time to repeal it.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |

NCLR Applauds Governor Brown for Signing the Historic FAIR Education Act

July 14, 2011

(San Francisco, CA, July 14, 2011)–Today, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 48, known as the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act. The FAIR Education Act amends the California Education Code to include instruction on the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The new law also prohibits discriminatory instruction and discriminatory materials from being adopted by the State Board of Education.

The FAIR Education Act was introduced on December 13, 2010 by Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco and sponsored by Equality California and Gay-Straight Alliance Network. It was passed by the California Senate, on a 23-14 vote, on April 14, 2011, and by the California Assembly on July 6, 2011, on a 49-25 vote. NCLR helped write the legislation and strongly supported its passage.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:

“We salute Governor Brown for signing, Senator Mark Leno for sponsoring, and the California legislature for passing this historic bill that reverses decades of censorship and discrimination against LGBT people in public school classrooms. Finally, all California students will learn about the contributions and accomplishments of LGBT people throughout history and into the present. LGBT students will be able to live openly and with pride, knowing that their state and their schools embrace them and recognize their worth. The Governor’s and legislature’s foresight will be repaid many times over when the next generation of California youth enter the world as healthier, more confident, and better-educated adults. This is the beginning of a new era of full inclusion and support for LGBT youth and their families in public schools, and I am proud that California is once again leading the way.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |

Proposed Rule Would Protect LGBT People Seeking Affordable, Private Healthcare Policies

July 13, 2011

(Washington, D.C., July 13, 2011)—On July 11, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) included protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in its road map to help states establish Affordable Insurance Exchanges. These Exchanges, which are part of the Affordable Care Act, are state-based, one-stop marketplaces where individuals and small businesses can research affordable private insurance options, determine their eligibility for various policies, and enroll in private healthcare plans, including plans that are similar to those available to members of Congress. These Exchanges will qualify for various tax credits and, because they are competitive, will make it much easier for individuals and small employers to buy private, affordable healthcare plans.

While HHS’s roadmap is only a proposed rule at this point, it prohibits Exchanges from discriminating against participants based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including in marketing, outreach, and enrollment. This is an essential non-discrimination provision for LGBT people, many of whom are uninsured or under-insured due to work place discrimination and harmful laws like the Defense of Marriage Act.

States must establish the Exchanges by 2014 and will have access to federal grants in order to initiate and keep them going.

Statement by NCLR Federal Policy Director Maya Rupert:

“This rule, once adopted, will have a tremendous impact on the LGBT community and is an essential step to ensuring high quality healthcare coverage for all people. By prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Affordable Insurance Exchanges, HHS provides necessary protections to LGBT people who otherwise experience disproportionate denials of care, or encounter bias and discrimination while seeking care. We applaud HHS for creating this framework and look forward to continuing to work with the department to finalize this rule and ensure that the Exchanges guarantee inclusive and accessible health care coverage for all patients and their families.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |

NCLR Applauds Order Halting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Enforcement

July 6, 2011

(San Francisco, CA, July 6, 2011)—Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that halts enforcement of the U.S. military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy. The ruling lifts a stay that had previously been put in place, allowing U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips’s October 2010 ruling prohibiting enforcement of DADT to take effect immediately. The Ninth Circuit found that “the circumstances and balance of hardships have changed” due in part to the passage of legislation to repeal DADT and recent statements by the Department of Justice that laws that discriminate against gay and lesbian people are presumptively unconstitutional.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:

“Today’s order by the Ninth Circuit that halts the worldwide enforcement of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the latest in a stunning series of victories in the struggle to end government discrimination against LGBT people. On the heels of last month’s vote to end marriage discrimination in the state of New York and the Department of Justice’s filing last week of a historic brief urging the court in Karen Golinski’s case to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, this ruling is  another powerful sign of a much larger transformation. For the first time in our nation’s history, we are within sight of a time when LGBT people can participate in all aspects of society without fear of being singled out for stigma and discrimination by their own government.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |

NCLR Applauds Department of Justice Brief Arguing DOMA is Unconstitutional

July 3, 2011

(San Francisco, CA, July 3, 2011)—On July 1, 2011, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a brief supporting federal court employee Karen Golinski’s lawsuit in which she seeks access to equal health benefits for her wife. In the brief on behalf of the Office of Personnel Management and other government defendants, the DOJ unequivocally argues in Golinski’s favor that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

This brief contains the strongest argument President Barack Obama’s administration has made against DOMA to date, acknowledging the government’s “significant and regrettable role” contributing to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender discrimination. The DOJ advised the Obama administration to cease its defense of DOMA in court in February 2011, but the decision to affirmatively make the case against DOMA represents a significant and transformative moment in the struggle against this discriminatory legislation. Golinski is represented by Lambda Legal.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:

“The brief is a powerful example of the fierce advocacy the LGBT community needs and deserves as we struggle to win recognition of our right to equal opportunity and justice under the law. All Americans who embrace a fair and inclusive society are grateful that the Justice Department and this administration share that vision. We applaud the work of the DOJ, the Obama administration, and our colleagues at Lambda Legal on behalf of Karen Golinski and all LGBT families.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 |