Within Reach

August 13, 2009

This year we have seen unprecedented movement on LGBT issues in the 111th Congress with long overdue legislation pending in both the Senate and House of Representatives. Today, more than ever before, federal bills provide an opportunity to improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people nationwide. From the Uniting American Families Act to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, NCLR is working to ensure that all members of the LGBT community will be included in federal protections.

But it will take all of us to pass this legislation. With the August congressional recess before us, it is the perfect time to schedule meetings with your Representatives and Senators while they are at home in their districts. We know nothing is more effective at moving individual members of Congress than hearing the voices of constituents. Congressional action to end discrimination against our community is long overdue. We must not let this opportunity pass! Even if you have never done so before, I urge you to schedule meetings, make phone calls, and send letters and emails asking Congress to support legislation that protects LGBT people.

We need to hold their feet to the fire, and it will require our entire community to engage with our federal elected officials in order to see change in Congress. Right now, we have the potential to see these three bills reach President Obama’s desk, and he has committed to signing them. It is time for us to unite, to be visible and vocal, and demonstrate that our community deserves the same protections and equality as the rest of the nation. We have accepted our second-class status for far too long. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations of LGBT people to demand that our federal representatives take meaningful steps to end blatant government discrimination against our families.

This is why NCLR is committed to engaging not only in litigation, but also in public education and public advocacy for changes in federal law. We play a distinct but vital role in the arena of federal advocacy, especially in working to ensure that those most vulnerable are included. NCLR has two of our most seasoned attorneys, as well as a full-time ENDA organizer, based in our Washington, D.C. office. We have a long history of being involved in federal legislation—as advisors, policy experts, witnesses, and authors. NCLR is committed to bringing our unique point of view and cutting edge legal expertise directly to lawmakers. We will continue to have the conversations that need to take place. We will continue to be instrumental in building and maintaining coalitions. We will invest the necessary resources to take advantage of the opportunities within reach.

The time is now, my friends. We must be our own fierce advocates.

In solidarity,

NCLR’s Blog: The Gay Agenda

July 30, 2009

Today, the White House announced the recipients of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. The list of 16 exemplary individuals includes Harvey Milk, awarded the medal posthumously, and tennis legend and gender equity champion Billie Jean King. This marks the first time the Medal of Freedom has been awarded to openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender individuals. This is a remarkable honor and recognition of two of our community’s greatest heroes. I certainly am grateful to President Obama for acknowledging Harvey and Billie Jean among the 16 powerful, diverse, and outstanding men and women whose company they join.

Hopefully, today marks the beginning of the end of such honors being regarded as unprecedented. In the coming years when openly LGBT individuals are honored with the Medal of Freedom, we hope the announcement is unremarkable—except, of course, for the remarkable nature of the honor itself. And in that hope lies the real “Gay Agenda.” It is my great wish that the place of LGBT folks in the civil and cultural life of this nation will become routine and commonplace. While an honor like the Medal of Freedom will be worth celebration and reflection, it will not be historic or rare. We are everywhere, but our presence has been too often stifled, ignored, or shamed into silence.

The “Gay Agenda” includes Medals of Freedom, but more than that, it means that we are simply an acknowledged and accepted part of the rich and varied fabric of our country. It means that when John marries his boyfriend Lawrence, his co-workers at the software company all go in on the perfect wedding gift. When Marjorie and Josie and their daughters come back from a summer vacation, they share their pictures with the neighbors over a block-party BBQ. It means that when a new school year starts, of the millions of kids heading back to classes, a good number will be coming from homes with two moms or two dads or a transgender parent—and that is just fine. In short, it means a day when LGBT people just are. Yes, we contribute some very special and fabulous elements to the culture, but day in and day out, no one raises an eyebrow, or hyperventilates, or tells jokes about us, or worries about their kids playing with our kids, or ever attacks, harms, disparages, or fears us.

I know that day is still some ways off. So in the meantime, I am grateful to the Obama Administration for acknowledging the amazing contributions of Harvey Milk and Billie Jean King with this unprecedented honor and for accelerating the moment when it won’t be such a big deal. But today it is. Congratulations.

In solidarity,

Under Pressure

July 9, 2009

Posted: 07.09.09

We all know that the President has a lot on his plate—some very weighty issues, and many of his priorities we support wholeheartedly—but LGBT equality cannot wait to be the dessert course on even the most carefully planned four or eight-year presidential menu.

This administration prides itself on being “the most open and accessible administration in American history,” and the White House website invites us to make our voices heard. Visiting http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/ shows us the great variety of ways to speak up—by phone and TTY/TDD, e-mail, fax, and by old-fashioned snail mail (which takes even longer than just mailing because of print mail security screening). Let’s take President Obama and his administration at their word and do exactly that: make our voices heard.

I promised I would provide concrete steps for keeping the pressure on the President and his administration, and here are five items that need action from this President NOW. You get a gold star and my unending esteem if you do all of them!

Please contact the President and urge him to:

  1. State now that he is ready to sign the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) as soon as Congress passes it. His public support of this bill will help get it passed in Congress. Please also contact your Representative in favor of swift passage of an ENDA that covers both sexual orientation and gender identity, which is long overdue and still needed. ENDA is pending in the House.

  2. Make good on his promise that passage of the Uniting All Families Act (UAFA) is one of the top priorities for the Department of Justice. UAFA is a proposed bill that would provide same-sex couples with the same immigration benefits as opposite-sex couples. If passed, UAFA would allow U.S. citizens and permanent residents to file a visa petition on behalf of their foreign national same-sex permanent partners, allowing them to immigrate to the U.S. and adjust their status to become lawful permanent residents. The Obama Administration has explicitly stated that it supports passage of this bill. Please also contact your Representative in favor of passage of UAFA.

  3. Use his presidential “stop-loss” power to halt discharges under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy, and do all in his power to press for passage of the legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that is now pending in Congress.

  4. Do everything in his power to repeal the nefarious and so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA), including supporting congressional repeal and instructing the Department of Justice to stop defending this unconstitutional law which harms families.

  5. Continue to press for health care reform—and we need to strongly urge President Obama to ensure that any reform that occurs does not discriminate against LGBT people. Politics should not trump the health of the American people.

As we have all seen in recent weeks, there are numerous ways to hold President Obama and his administration accountable for providing the leadership and visionary change that was promised throughout his campaign. In the past few weeks, many of us have done all of these: taking action with our wallets and our voices, in the press, on the web, in our communities.

Let’s keep that up so that our voices swell in unison and cannot be mistaken for anything other than the cry for equality that we deserve.

In solidarity,

kate signature

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.


ENDA: Long Overdue

June 24, 2009

Today, Wednesday, June 24, 2009 is an important day. It is a day when we witness a commitment to full equality and inclusion. A day when the most senior openly gay elected official in the nation affirms that discrimination against any segment of our community will not be tolerated. This is the day when Congressman Barney Frank introduces the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in the 111th Congress.

Yet in the midst of the history and hope sits the bitter reality that this legislation is long overdue. During the years of inaction by Congress and 2007’s stalling of the bill due to protest against stripping protections based on gender identity from ENDA, LGBT Americans have lost jobs or lived in fear of losing their jobs based on who they are. Regardless of qualifications or skill, irrespective of commitment or seniority, countless of our sisters and brothers have been fired, harassed, taunted, and ignored because there was no law to stop their persecutors and no legal recourse to vindicate their right to simply do their job.

In the past weeks, our community has unloaded a boatload of frustration, disappointment, and anger at the Obama Administration. The specific trigger was the filing of a legal brief by the Department of Justice in a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). We disagree with many of the administration’s arguments—for example that DOMA is a valid exercise of Congress’s power, is consistent with Equal Protection or Due Process principles, and does not impinge upon rights that are recognized as fundamental.

We were also appalled by a new and nonsensical argument the administration advanced suggesting that the federal government needs to be “neutral” with regard to its treatment of married same-sex couples in order to ensure that federal tax money collected from across the country not be used to assist same-sex couples duly married by their home states. Excuse me? First, we pay our share of taxes and second, cost is not an appropriate justification for unconstitutional discrimination.

The brief unleashed a firestorm of criticism, much of which had been simmering for months. The Obama Administration has not done nearly enough on any LGBT issues, President Obama himself had said nothing in the wake of historic marriage victories around the country, and again remained silent after the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8—a measure he said he opposed. The Administration has been backtracking on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and even the White House website had been scrubbed of some of its early language aggressively supporting full equality for our community.

In the midst of this unrelenting criticism, ENDA is re-introduced. Reminding all of us, in stark terms, of how little we have gained at the Federal level over the decades. Well guess what—we are done waiting. Yes, we know the President has extraordinarily weighty issues on his plate. Yes, we know that there is much suffering and crisis to attend to. Yes, we fully understand that as members of the human family there are many social and international justice issues which this administration must address.

But, at the same time, our community has long-suffered personal and public attacks. We have lost family, lost jobs, and lost community because of who we are and who we love. Our most personal and profound relationships are diminished and rejected by law. Our brothers and sisters are assaulted or murdered without meaningful legal recourse and little public outcry. Our soldiers are summarily dismissed from the armed services even as our military strains under the burden of two wars and innumerable skirmishes around the globe. Our youth are isolated and brutalized with impunity. Enough is enough.

The introduction of ENDA is the beginning of the end of inaction and mollifying baby steps. We have begun to see some positive steps, signals and movement. It is beginning to feel, finally, that we are being taken seriously. It is time to work with our friends and allies to make real and sustained change. And to assure that our “fierce advocates” walk that talk. Yes, there are pressing issues which our government must address—and LGBT equality under the law is one of them.

In Solidarity,

Paper and Clocks: Reflecting on the First Anniversary of California’s Marriages

June 16, 2009

Some interesting trivia (courtesy of Wikipedia and About.com):

  • Paper is the traditional gift to celebrate a first year wedding anniversary, with clocks being the modern twist.
  • In the United Kingdom, couples celebrating their 60th, 65th, or 70th anniversary can receive a celebratory message from the monarch simply by applying at Buckingham Palace.
  • In Canada, you can receive a message from the Governor General to celebrate your 50th or 55th wedding anniversary.
  • And in the United States, a couple is eligible for an anniversary greeting from the President for any anniversary on or after the 50th.

This time last year, on the afternoon of June 16, 2008, I stood inside the mayor’s office in San Francisco City Hall and witnessed history. I watched two of the most extraordinary women in my life affirm their love and relationship. I cried as Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin exchanged vows—a moment that feels like it was both only yesterday and many lifetimes ago.

All of us who were close to Phyllis and Del took great comfort in the fact that they were legally married when Del passed away just six weeks after their wedding. Del and Phyllis had been together for 55 years, and in my eyes—and in the eyes of our movement—they were entitled to an anniversary greeting from the President. Their relationship and love should be celebrated and honored as it well deserved to be, just as all same-sex couples should be treated equally.

We will continue to work for the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender couples to marry, just as we work for a workplace free from discrimination, for safe school hallways, for our right to live free from violence. As we move ahead with our work, let’s arm ourselves with first anniversary gifts: paper and clocks. Paper to write President Obama and demand that he keep his campaign promises:

“Americans are yearning for leadership that can empower us to reach for what we know is possible. I believe that we can achieve the goal of full equality for the millions of LGBT people in this country. To do that, we need leadership that can appeal to the best parts of the human spirit. Join with me, and I will provide that leadership. Together, we will achieve real equality for all Americans, gay and straight alike.”

And clocks because the clock is ticking.

In Solidarity,

United We Mourn, United We Stand

May 26, 2009

Kate’s Blog: Out for Justice

Today, the California Supreme Court diminished its legacy as a champion of equality. By upholding Prop 8, an initiative that stripped the right to marry from same-sex couples in California, the Court’s decision has undermined the central principle that all people are entitled to equal rights and has jeopardized every minority group in California. No minority group should have to defend its right to equality at the ballot, and the Court should not have permitted such a travesty of justice to stand.

Today’s decision is dramatically out of step with where the nation is heading. After decades of struggle and hard work, we are living through an unmistakable turning point in the history of our movement. In the past few weeks alone, there has been a tidal wave of momentum in favor of equality for same-sex couples—including a unanimous decision upholding marriage equality from the Iowa Supreme Court; legislative victories in Vermont and Maine; and additional victories on the horizon in New Jersey and New York. Across the country, public opinion is shifting decisively in our favor. Five states have now embraced full marriage equality for same-sex couples, and more are expected to join that list this year. It is devastating that California is no longer one of them. But rest assured: we will be again.

As I wade through my many emotions—heartache, disappointment, grief, anger, and disbelief—one thing is clear: we will regain the freedom to marry in California. It is now up to the people of this state to restore California’s national stature and once again embrace inclusion, fairness, and equality for all.

Together, we will be the first state to repeal a marriage ban at the ballot.

Over the past few months, I have participated in town halls across the state. In every community, I have been moved and encouraged by the resilience and strength of our community and our allies. I have been reminded that we have weathered far worse storms. We fought back against the criminalization of our relationships and violence at the hands of government officials and police, and we must remember that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. We fought back against efforts to strip us of custody of our children. We fought back against medical authorities when they pathologized our love. And we continue to fight against an epidemic that still claims the lives of far too many. By being our authentic selves, by demanding change and full equality, we have changed the law and transformed public opinion. And we have built one of the strongest movements for human freedom and equality of our time.

We must now use that strength to reverse Prop 8 at the ballot. As we band together to realize that goal, the more than 18,000 married same-sex couples must be our ambassadors. They must help others regain the equality that now only some of us enjoy. We must also call on fair-minded Californians to stand with us, come to know our families, and undo the damage caused by Prop 8. Let’s harness the remarkable grassroots energy and activism that sprung to life after Prop 8 passed and reclaim our state’s rightful place as a civil rights leader. We are unified. We are ready. We are resilient. We will stand together with our allies and we will be victorious.

This is not over.

In Solidarity,

kate signature

P.S. Listen to me this Thursday on KALW’s “Out in the Bay” live at 7:00 pm to discuss the ruling in depth.

P.P.S. hope you’ll join me tonight at the Day of Decision rally and, even though I won’t be able to be there because of our annual gala, I hope you’ll be in Fresno on Saturday for Meet in the Middle.

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