Gay Marriage Advocates Reframe the Debate

November 7, 2011; Source: USA Today | Lesbian and gay couples want the freedom to marry out of love and commitment, just like their straight counterparts. And same-gender couples, many of whom have been together for decades, want the 1,138 federal rights and benefits afforded different-gender couples such as social security and veteran benefits for spouses as well as the right to sponsor their foreign-born spouses.

Advocates for same-gender marriage have been arguing that it is a matter of equal rights, but now a bipartisan group is urging proponents to frame the debate as a matter of love and commitment.

The centrist group Third Way launched the “Commitment Campaign” on Monday and is reported to have already won support from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents such as Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, and former chair of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman.

Those behind the initiative believe that the focus on equality may give the false impression that lesbians and gays want to marry for different reasons than their straight counterparts.

Charles Moran, chairman of the California Log Cabin Republicans, told USA Today that the old way of framing the issue has led to 31 straight defeats in ballot initiatives across the country. “This is a real radical way of changing the approach in communicating why gay marriage equality is important.”

O’Malley added that “in this fast-evolving issue, we’re all searching for common ground and the way to have a conversation with those who would be inclined not to support marriage equality is to search for those common values that we share.”

Lesbian and gay couples want to marry for the same reasons as straight couples: they want to express their love and commitment through a public and social compact. But they also want to do so in order to secure the legal recognition, protection, and stability that come with the right that straight couples take as a matter of course but that is denied to Americans who happen to be gay.—Erwin de Leon

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, November 7, 2011.

























Lesbian and Gay Troops Hold First Convention

October 14, 2011; Source: Associated PressThe OutServe Armed Forces Leadership Summit, hosted by Outserve, a formerly covert association of lesbian and gay service members, was held in Las Vegas over the past weekend. The conference was sponsored by leading LGBT rights organization and the CIA and was attended by active military personnel, veterans, civilian allies and leaders from OutServe’s 48 global chapters. The gathering sought to “provide an international forum on creating an environment of respect in the military with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The event provided the space for participants to build professional networks, discuss challenges faced by gay service members, and formulate strategies to help build a stronger and more inclusive military community. Workshops tackled issues such as partner and family benefits, post-military career opportunities, transgender service, and even scriptures and homosexuality.

Sue Folton, founding board member of OutServe and the first openly gay West Point graduate appointed to the academy’s board, said that “there are issues of leadership and faith and family that are specific to our community and that by addressing, our folks can be better soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and better leaders.”

Ty Walrod, a civilian co-founder of OutServe, explained that “part of the goal of the conference is to recognize the past, and also as an organization plan for the future.”

Although Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is now history, OutServe and other groups that support gay troops are still needed.

“I was so elated, so happy, when the repeal happened, but we still have a long ways to go,” Charlie Morgan, a personnel officer who has served in the military for 16 years, told the Los Angeles Times. She was referring to the fact that partners and spouses of gay service members are treated like second class citizens, denied the family support services, healthcare coverage and housing benefits afforded straight spouses. Morgan’s said that her partner can’t even shop at the base commissary.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October, 17, 2011.

Are Presidential Hopefuls Palling Around with Hate Groups?

October 9, 2011; Source: LGBTQ Nation | Republican presidential hopefuls were at this past weekend’s Values Voters Summit addressing socially conservative constituents whose support they are all vying for. Despite being called a cult member by a prominent Baptist and Rick Perry supporter, Mitt Romney addressed the crowd and called for civility. By the end of the weekend, Ron Paul won the religious voters’ straw poll followed by Herman Cain.

Last Friday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a report on the Family Research Council (FRC) and the American Family Association (AFA) just in time for the summit. Entitled “The Anti-Gay Lobby: The Family Research Council, the American Family Association and the Demonization of LGBT People,” the document exposes the anti-gay agenda of FRC and AFA; debunks myths propagated by anti-gay activists which expressly “demonizes” the LGBT community; and presents alarming statistics on violent hate crimes against LGBT people spurred by the defamation and mischaracterization of the minority group.

SPLC began listing FRC and AFA, which it considers “among the most powerful groups on the American religious right,” as hate groups last year, based on the organizations’ activities targeting the LGBT community.  SPLC points out that the conservative groups are “the chief purveyors of lies about the LGBT people” which have resulted in discrimination and violence against LGBT individuals.

“LGBT people are now, by far, the group most victimized by violent hate crimes in America,” said Mark Potok, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, which compiles statistics and information on hate groups operating in the United States.

There is no denying that FRC and AFA are two of the most influential conservative advocacy groups in the United States – they are the ones behind the Values Voters Summit, a required stop for hopefuls in the GOP presidential primary race.

“Public figures should not lend their names to groups that vilify or spread lies about them (LGBT people),” argued Potok. He said that politicians “who know that the claims made by FRC and AFA are false, but who take no action, make these outrageous lies seem legitimate,” referring to GOP presidential candidates, Republican leaders, and other notables who graced the gathering.

Come general elections time, will the Republican presidential candidate be called out for associating with hate groups or will he or she get a pass since FRC and AFA are only vilifying gays?

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October 10, 2011.

Gay Group Celebrates Accurate Portrayal of LGBT Community

September 3, 2011; Source: LGBTQ Nation | Queer folk are ubiquitous in popular media. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) women and men jockey to be the next Oprah, appear regularly in primetime television shows, give style advice in magazines and blogs, and dance with the “stars.”

The portrayal of LGBT individuals and families, while on its way to mirroring reality, still has a way to go. Stereotypes and caricatures are prevalent and enduring.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) recognizes and honors “fair and accurate representations” of the LGBT community through its annual Amplifier Awards which single out television, print, outdoor, and social media advertising campaigns that promote positive images of LGBT people and issues.

This year’s award recipients were named on September 2 and featured mainstream advertising such as Google Chrome’s television campaign “The Web is What You Make of It: It Gets Better Project” which encourages LGBT youth not to give up; Kaiser Permanente’s print campaign “Stick Around. Things Get Interesting” which pictures an extended family that embraces a gay couple and their baby; and American Airlines’ outdoor campaign “Beach Towel” which depicts vacationing gay and straight couples.

GLAAD Acting President Mike Thompson told LGBTQ Nationthat “the advertising industry is still behind news and entertainment media in terms of including images that reflect the diversity of LGBT people. By highlighting the great work of all of our award recipients with an Amplifier Award, we hope their corporate peers will begin including our community in ads which accurately reflect the fabric of American culture today.”

Thanking individuals, organizations, and others for promoting the interests of a minority group is not new. For example, the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, honors those who have furthered the rights of Latinos during its annual conference. And local groups like Ten Outstanding Filipino Americans in New York (TOFA-NY) hold their own awards ceremonies to recognize individuals who have positively raised the profile of their communities.

By contrast, a key attribute of the GLAAD awards is that they recognize forms of popular culture that mainly originate outsidethe community that promotes the welfare of LGBT Americans. LGBT advocacy groups understand the important role of allies in calling attention to the community’s struggle for equal rights, and they raise up these supporters as models for observers who might otherwise not be as aware of or predisposed toward the interests and concerns of LGBT individuals and families.

Minority advocacy organizations tend to recognize examples of achievement within their own communities, as well they should. The GLAAD awards show that they also stand to gain by recognizing and encouraging support from outside the community.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, September 15, 2011.

Gay Games Back on Track in Cleveland

July 29, 2011; Source: | Gay Games X is back on in Northeast Ohio. Cleveland and Akron, slated venues for the international sporting event, can once again look forward to hosting athletes, fans and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from all over the world, and the prospect of generating millions of dollars for the local economy.

A lawsuit almost derailed the games. Cleveland Synergy Foundation, the nonprofit which had won the rights to run the event, sued the Federation of Gay Games, the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland and the city after the federation terminated its agreement with the foundation.

The federation claimed the nonprofit had failed to meet the terms of the licensing agreement and proceeded to sign a contract with Cleveland Special Events Corp. to manage the tournament. A settlement has been reached however, with the city of Cleveland agreeing to pay the foundation $475,000.

The 2014 Gay Games will be held from August 9 to 16 and organizers expect more than 13,000 participants from over 30 countries to attend. The gathering will include competitions in 35 sports, including swimming, basketball, cycling, soccer, ice hockey, track and field, and for the first time, rodeo. Cultural activities are also scheduled.

The Gay Games were the brainchild of Dr. Tom Waddell who conceived it as a “vehicle of change.” Since they were first held in 1982, the games have helped change perceptions and attitudes about LGBT people while simultaneously empowering gay athletes and the wider LGBT community. The Gay Games were initially called the Gay Olympics but the International Olympic Committee and the United States Olympic Committee sued the organizers to force the name change.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, July 31, 2011.

New York, Marriage Equality and Immigrants

When Governor Andrew Cuomo called for “justice for all” through the passage of a marriage equality bill earlier this year, I asked whether gay marriage was a priority for New York immigrants. Some queer activists did not think so, arguing that many immigrants, gay or straight, are far more concerned about bread and butter issues.

The momentous passage of New York’s Marriage Equality Act late Friday night is nonetheless being celebrated by the LGBT community, its advocates and allies, including those who might have expressed skepticism. The law expands civil rights within the state and codifies the fundamental dignity of LGBT individuals and their families, some of whom are immigrants.

The Marriage Equality Act will not help lesbian and gay immigrants who hope to gain permanent residency by wedding their American partners, since immigration is under federal purview and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) bars the U.S. government from recognizing gay marriages. Among permanent residents and naturalized citizens however, the new law establishes one more jurisdiction where lesbian and gay couples will be treated equally within its boundaries. All couples have the freedom to marry in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, D.C. and now, New York.

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, one of the organizations that led the effort to pass gay marriage in the state, told Fi2W back in January that “the denial of the freedom to marry with all its tangible and intangible protections, consequences, and meaning hurts everyone—not least because it is state-sponsored discrimination based on who we are and who we love, which is intolerable.”

New Yorkers – gay or straight, immigrant or native-born – have great cause to celebrate. They have taken a big step in the long of arc justice and freedom for all.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds,  June 26, 2011.

The Morton Memo on Immigration Enforcement: What About Gay Families?

John Morton, Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), released a memo to employees of his agency to clarify how ICE personnel should use their time, energy and resources in deporting undocumented immigrants and more importantly, who among undocumented immigrants should be deported.

The memo augers well for some immigrants, particularly those who were brought to the United States as children. These are kids, teenagers and young women and men who know no other home and consider themselves American. Morton includes among “positive” factors which “should prompt particular care and consideration” minors and elderly individuals as well as individuals present in the United States since childhood.

As the foreign-born half of a gay binational couple, I can’t help but wonder how the memo would affect me, my spouse and thousands of other legally married or partnered couples like us.

Gay rights advocates have been quick to express their concern. Although ICE representatives are encouraged to consider whether an individual has a spouse who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, it is not clear whether this applies to lesbians and gays. Immigration status is a federal matter, and legal gay marriages and civil unions are not recognized by the U.S. government thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration equality argues:

“While ICE has taken a significant step in recognizing that tearing families apart should not be a government priority, it must be explicit that lesbian and gay families are protected, too.”

She adds, “Given the absence of any LGBT family recognition at the federal level, the decision not to explicitly include our spouses and partners in the ICE memo is striking.”

The Morton memo nonetheless leaves me cautiously optimistic, since it has additional criteria that can be read as benefiting gay immigrants and their families. ICE personnel, for instance, are advised to take into account whether a person has a child or is the main caretaker of an ill spouse.

Fact is however, ICE employees are all too human and “prosecutorial discretion” can easily be influenced by a person’s background, political and religious beliefs, and deep-seated biases. Those who believe that all people should be treated equally and fairly will most likely execute the memo’s guidelines mindful of gay families. Those who are prejudiced against gays can choose to judge harshly.

This can be the case not only with lesbians and gays but with immigrants in general. Racism and nativism can surface alongside homophobia.

While the Morton memo is a step forward, it is merely an exhortation, not by any means an enforceable regulation or law. The disclaimer at the end makes it very clear that ICE personnel still can and will deport undocumented immigrants.

Until LGBT-inclusive comprehensive immigration reform is passed, what is needed is an executive order that halts the deportation of foreign-born spouses and recognizes gay marriage and domestic partnerships for immigration purposes. Ultimate resolution of the plight of gay binational couples can only come through federal legislation such as the Uniting American Families Act or the Reuniting Families Act which seek to treat LGBT families equally and fairly. Or through repeal of the patently unfair and discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, June 23, 2011.