Monthly Archives: October 2009

President Obama Announces End of HIV/AIDS Travel and Immigration Ban, HIV/AIDS Prevention Funding Increase

Two years after Congress approved the policy change, President Obama announced this afternoon that in January 2010 the United States will end the policy of forbidding international travel and immigration based on HIV status. The statement came at the signing of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act, which authorizes a 5% annual increase in the program’s funding for the next four years.

At the signing ceremony today, President Obama had this to say (excerpted) about the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act:

Over the past 19 years this legislation has evolved from an emergency response into a comprehensive national program for the care and support of Americans living with HIV/AIDS. It helps communities that are most severely affected by this epidemic and often least served by our health care system, including minority communities, the LGBT community, rural communities, and the homeless. It’s often the only option for the uninsured and the underinsured. And it provides life-saving medical services to more than half a million Americans every year, in every corner of the country.

It’s helped us to open a critical front on the ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS. But let me be clear: This is a battle that’s far from over, and it’s a battle that all of us need to do our part to join. AIDS may no longer be the leading killer of Americans ages 25 to 44, as it once was. But there are still 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, and more than 56,000 new infections occur every single year.

Some communities still experience unacceptably high rates of infection. Gay men make up 2 or 3 percent of the population, but more than half of all new cases. African Americans make up roughly half of all new cases. Nearly half of all new cases now occur in the South. And a staggering 7 percent of Washington, D.C.’s residents between the ages of 40 and 49 live with HIV/AIDS — and the epidemic here isn’t as severe as it is in several other U.S. cities.

So tackling this epidemic will take far more aggressive approaches than we’ve seen in the past — not only from our federal government, but also state and local governments, from local community organizations, and from places of worship.

But it will also take an effort to end the stigma that has stopped people from getting tested; that has stopped people from facing their own illness; and that has sped the spread of this disease for far too long. A couple of years ago Michelle and I were in Africa and we tried to combat the stigma when we were in Kenya by taking a public HIV/AIDS test. And I’m proud to announce today we’re about to take another step towards ending that stigma.

The President then moved on to the Travel and Immigration ban:

Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS. Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of this disease — yet we’ve treated a visitor living with it as a threat. We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic — yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country.

If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it. And that’s why, on Monday my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year. Congress and President Bush began this process last year, and they ought to be commended for it. We are finishing the job. It’s a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it’s a step that will keep families together, and it’s a step that will save lives.

Between the two measures today and signing the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Law on Wednesday, this has been an historic week for the LGBT community. I am so grateful to Congress and President Obama for their action.

Because of this week’s actions, people living with HIV/AIDS virus can enter the United States without lying about their status, and without smuggling their life-preserving medications. People who have not had access to HIV testing and treatment will have resources to better care for the disease and to get information to slow its spread. People who are victims of of the twin human viruses of hate and fear will have access to tools previously withheld because of the victim’s orientation or gender preference.

So thank you President Obama, and thank you members of Congress.

The next battle awaits. We’re hoping we don’t have to bring 200,000 people back to Washington, DC before you take action on these other threats to human liberty.

Matthew Shepard Bill Signed Into Law

At 2:51pm today, President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which included the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. After eleven years of public battle to add sexuality and gender identity to existing hate crimes laws, we finally have in place a federal law that ensures that violence against LGBT people will not be swept under the carpet like it has so often.

Judy Shepard, mother of one of the slaughtered men this law is named for, released the following statement (excerpted) through the Matthew Shepard Foundation:

“When Dennis and I started calling 10 years ago for federal action to prevent and properly prosecute hate crimes against gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans, we never imagined it would take this long,” said Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother and the president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation Board of Directors.

“The legislation went through so many versions and so many votes that we had to constantly keep our hopes in check to keep from getting discouraged,” she continued. “But with President Obama’s support and the continually growing bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate lining up behind the bill this year, it became clear that 2009 was the year it would finally happen.”

The legislation allows federal authorities to pursue charges in violent crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability, in cases where local authorities cannot or will not secure appropriate convictions. It also opens up federal aid to local law enforcement for training, prevention and investigation.

“We are incredibly grateful to Congress and the president for taking this step forward on behalf of hate crime victims and their families, especially given the continuing attacks on people simply for living their lives openly and honestly,” Shepard added. “But each of us can and must do much more to ensure true equality for all Americans.”

1976 - 1998
Matthew Shepard
1976 - 1998

Elke Kennedy, whose son Sean was murdered just two years ago but whose convicted killer is already a free man, spoke last night with CNN:

Obama is to sign the measure, which was added to a $680 billion defense authorization bill, on Wednesday. Kennedy and her husband were driving Tuesday night from their home in Greenville to the nation’s capital, where they were planning to witness the ceremony.

“We are going there representing so many people,” she said. “People who have been murdered and are dealing with the harassment and bullying and violence on a daily basis.”

But Kennedy said her work does not end with the president’s signature.

“This is a huge milestone, but it is not the end of the fight,” she said. “We have to change the hearts and minds.”

Toward that end, she has spoken at 34 colleges and universities “to educate these kids about what hate and violence and bullying can do and give them options and teach them non-violent conflict resolution.”

But she expressed frustration that elementary schools have not allowed her to address their students, to send them the message that ends each of her talks: “No mother should ever have to bury her child, no mother should ever have to lose her child to hate or violence and no mother should ever have to fight for justice for her child.”

Sean Kennedy 1987 - 2007
Sean Kennedy
1987 - 2007

As Dan Savage said last week on Anderson Cooper 360, this new law doesn’t put a force field around us. It doesn’t protect us before a crime is committed and I won’t be retiring my Hate Crimes category any time soon. What it does do, though, is offer federal aid if local authorities are unwilling to vigorously prosecute killers, (like in Sean Kennedy’s and more recently Tony Hunter’s cases) and provide local police with resources (like in Matthew Shepard’s case).

This is a major victory, one that we fought long and hard for (even when our so-called leaders didn’t like it) (not that I’m bitter). A reception will be held in celebration at the White House around 6:00 tonight, and I’m glad they’ll be there to celebrate.

But even better, we can celebrate each time a criminal serves a just sentence for their crimes.

Canada Celebrates 17 Years of Gays in the Military

CanadaGayFriendThat’s right. On October 27, 1992 the Canadian Federal Court ruled that barring lesbians and gay men from serving in the military was a violation of the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. From Sunshine Coast, BC’s Coast Reporter:

In the last 17 years, many have risen to the top in their respective fields – an otherwise impossible feat under rules that once barred the promotion of enlisted individuals who’d been outed.

Luc Cassivi is one of them.

He certainly didn’t talk about his sexual orientation when he joined the Canadian Navy in 1983. He’s now the highest-ranking sailor aboard HMCS Ville de Quebec, a commander in the Navy, and he’s no longer shy about who he is.

“I’ve been openly gay for a number of years. My friends and my co-workers know it and it surely has not been an impediment for me progressing,” Cassivi said in an interview aboard his Halifax-based frigate. “I’m not saying that things have always been rosy. There were periods when things were difficult for a lot of people… But I think we’re well past that at this point.”

Cassivi spent 15 years in tight quarters as a submariner. He said he’s experienced his share of awkward moments and uncomfortable jokes. There were even times he considered leaving the military.

But once the rules changed, he says, so did the culture. Opportunities began to surface. These days, Cassivi says, success is dictated by performance.

“It’s not colour, cultural background, gender or the like. It’s (whether) you are competent at what you do,” he said. “If you’re competent at what you do, then the team will take you in and fully integrate you.”

Cassivi said coming out with his colleagues merely simplified his life. He doesn’t see himself as a champion for gay rights and says this is the first time he’s ever spoken in the media about his sexuality. What he’s most concerned about, he says, is getting the best out of his crew.

Happy anniversary, Canada! Hopefully we’ll soon join you in treating people fairly.

Army Secretary: Army Can Handle DADT Repeal

Army Secretary John McHugh said yesterday that repeal of DADT would not lead to “major turmoil” in the Army. This statement from an extraordinarily high ranking official within the Pentagon flies in the face of claims by Elaine Donnelly and other DADT champions who chaos and revolt would ensue if gays were permitted to serve openly.

The statement came during a wide-ranging interview with Rick Maze of Army Times. Here’s the relevant section of the interview:

Army Secretary John McHugh
Army Secretary John McHugh
McHugh finds himself at the center of debate over Obama’s pledge to repeal the law banning open service by homosexuals.

In the interview, McHugh carefully avoided offering his personal views on the issue, saying his job now is to provide input to Obama on how to make the change and to talk with members of Congress about the issue. Selling the idea to Congress, which has the final say, could depend on exactly what the administration tries to do in terms of the timing of repeal and how it is applied, McHugh said.

It’s possible, for example, that homosexuals could be allowed into some occupations or units but barred from others, McHugh said, stressing that he was not aware of any such plans but only discussing how the issue might play out.

“I don’t want to prejudge the situation,” he said. “I am saying if he did that, it would be my job to explain it when the appropriate time comes.”

When asked specifically if lifting the gay ban would seriously disrupt the military, as predicted by those who oppose repeal, McHugh said there is no reason to think major turmoil would ensue.

“Anytime you have a broad-based policy change, there are challenges to that,” he said. “The Army has a big history of taking on similar issues, [with] predictions of doom and gloom that did not play out,” he said.

This isn’t coming from a lefty loon, or whatever O’Reilly is calling people these days. Before taking the role of Army Secretary last month, McHugh served for many years as a Republican congressman from a conservative district in New York.

In reporting the story today, Reuters sought out the opinions of two officials from the Palm Center:

“What we’re seeing is a tipping point in the opinions of both military and civilian leaders on this issue,” said Dr. Nathaniel Frank, senior research fellow at the Palm Center. “The Army is the largest of the services and the most heavily involved in our wars abroad, and for Secretary McHugh to state clearly that it can handle repeal sends a strong signal to the other service secretaries that they can do the same.”

Dr. Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said Secretary McHugh’s comments were enormously significant. But he pointed out that there is no research to support the idea of letting gay soldiers serve in some units but not others. “The rationale for the ban applies equally across all job categories,” he said. “So if it’s okay to be an openly gay Arabic interpreter, it’s also okay to be openly gay in the infantry or on a submarine. Since conduct rules apply across the board, there’s just no basis for applying different standards to different specialties.”

The fight to repeal DADT seems to be picking up steam lately. Senators Joe Lieberman (CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) have both been rumored to be taking point in the Senate, and Rep. Patrick Murphy (PA) has been fighting for repeal in the House. President Obama is theoretically on board.

Could this be a signal that the end is near?

Marriage Opponents: Knowledge Base

We’re in the home stretch in Maine’s battle for marriage equality, with eight days to go. I don’t usually make this kind of post, but a mountain of information on Stand for Marriage Maine (SFMM) and National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has been shared in the last several days from multiple sources.

As usual, following the money has produced some insight into the campaign. Here’s a list of what you need to know for the vote in Maine and the in next battleground state.

Lt. Dan Choi Tells His Story

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m a fan of Dan Choi’s. He strikes me as one of the most genuine new advocates we’ve met this year, especially since he’s still waiting to be fired by the Army.

Photo by Todd Franson for Metro Weekly
Photo by Todd Franson
We’ve had two recent chances to get to know Lt. Choi better. The first is from a fantastic site I’d never seen before called The Moth. They released the audio of Lt. Choi telling his coming out story on their podcast. It’s about 13 minutes long, and every one of them is worth it. (You should also subscribe to the podcast. Lots of great stories there.)

Next, we have an interview Choi did with Sean Bugg of Metro Weekly. It’s fairly long, so go over there to read the whole thing. Here are a few excerpts.

On when he knew he was gay:

It was like fourth grade or so. Of course, growing up in a Southern Baptist home we were always taught no sex before marriage, don’t make a girl pregnant — and I was like, well, that’s going to be easy for me. But my upbringing made it very difficult to come to terms with it. I would pray about it at these revival services. I would just be crying and praying, ”Jesus, just make me sexually attracted to Lucy Liu, make me pop a boner for Michelle Pfeiffer, in Jesus’ name, amen!” That’s how ridiculous it was, that those were the things I was praying about. But that’s how fervently I believed that it was changeable.

On his relationship with his father, a Southern Baptist preacher:

Although he was very irrational about [my coming out], four days ago we talked and he said, ”I love you, and I accept you as my gay son.” With all of what’s been going on in the past nine months, I never would have expected that in nine years — maybe even a couple decades. It was so amazing on the eve of this whole D.C. thing, that gave me so much comfort and healing. I almost didn’t know how to deal with it emotionally.

On being a gay Christian:

There have been a lot of people were a little bit taken aback; not only, ”How is this possible?” but almost like, ”How dare you?” A lot of people are so injured, so hurt by the religious establishment that they just go to atheism. They find their ethics and their values in different ways, because they see the damage that some people cause [using religion] as a weapon to strip away the rights of those people. Forgive me if I use it in a military context, but just because the weapon is used against you doesn’t mean the weapon is not viable for you to use — it’s something that’s important, it’s something that we can be empowered by.

On the importance of coming out:

You come out because there’s somebody else who needs you to come out, and it’s your responsibility to do that. Because there’s some kid who may be told by someone you know, ”Don’t worry, I have a gay friend.” You could be saving somebody’s life, right there in your own home, in your own community, in your own backyard. That’s why it’s important, not for our own individual rights or for our taxpayer equity or our return on investment or our victimhood. Those are all important, but the most important thing has to be that we have a responsibility for all those other people. And we can’t be afraid, we can’t shy away from making that our message.

Hate Crimes Bill Passes in the Senate!

Finally.

The Matthew Shepard Act has finally passed
The Matthew Shepard Act has finally passed
Eleven years and eleven days after Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, beaten, tied to a fence, and killed for being gay, the hate crimes bill long named for him has finally passed in both houses of Congress.

The vote for the Senate Department of Defense Bill that the it was attached to ended just minutes ago with a final tally of 68-29, with three Senators not voting.

I’m not sure who voted how yet, and all the news is coming from Twitter at this point, but Republican Senators Susan Collins (ME), Richard Lugar (IN), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Olympia Snowe (ME), and George Voinovich (OH) voted for cloture earlier today, and one would assume that they voted with the majority in the final vote.

For more details tonight, check out the links in my sidebar. I won’t be able to update until morning, and there’s a whole lot of information still to be sifted before then.

President Obama has pledged several times to sign the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act if it gets to his desk. We’ll see in the days to come if there is some sort of logistical snafu, but hopefully he’ll sign it without delay. The sooner this law is on the books, the sooner we can walk the streets knowing that someone will give a damn if we’re killed.

Hallelujah. Praise the Lord. Hallelujah.


Quick update from Law Dork on the votes.

[FURTHER UPDATE: The Senate voted on final passage of the Conference Report beginning at 4:40 p.m. It passed on a 68-29 vote, which was announced by Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who was presiding. Sen. Russ Feingold is the only Democrat to vote no. Republican Sens. Bond, Collins, Cornyn, Ensign, Gregg, Hutchison, Lugar, McCain, Snowe and Voinovich voted yes. Sens. Byrd, Hatch and Murkowski did not vote. The Defense Department Appropriations Reauthorization bill, with the Hate Crimes Prevention Act included, now goes to President Obama for signature.]

United Methodist Church Honored for False Advertising

The United Methodist Church got some great news on Tuesday. The Church has won Getting Attention‘s award for best non-profit tagline in the Religion & Spiritual Development category! From The Christian Post:

The annual Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards announced the winners on Tuesday and recognized the Methodists for delivering “a tagline trinity that supports its applied faith mission and is warm, enthusiastic and embracing.”

The United Methodist Church won the award under the Religion & Spiritual Development category. The denomination began an “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.” welcoming and advertising campaign in 2001 to raise awareness and draw new people amid declining membership.

Research conducted in 2008 by The Barna Group for The United Methodist Church showed that a majority of people who were exposed to UMC’s ads recall the “Open hearts” tagline. Thirty-nine percent said they were fairly certain or extremely certain that they recalled the phrase and 12 percent said they thought they heard the phrase but were not certain of it.

open-hearts-minds-doors

Congratulations, United Methodist Church! Honestly, it’s a great tagline.

Now how about addressing the problem of your policies and Book of Discipline not matching your slogan? Like how every week you break the hearts of LGBT kids and adults suffering in silence while their church leaders pretend not to notice, or how pastors are allowed to close the doors to our membership, or how your minds are so closed that you won’t even agree that we don’t all agree!

Maybe someday the UMC will be worthy of such a lofty slogan. Lord knows there are people within the Church who try to make up for the downright ungodly policies you’ve codified, people like Adam Hamilton, Joey Heath, Karen Oliveto, Eric Folkerth, and the congregation of Epworth UMC in Portland, Oregon.

I have to tell you, Church, I’m so glad that my congregation doesn’t display an “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” banner. At this point it only reminds me how much damage you’re doing in the name of God and how many lives you’re destroying around the world, may He have mercy on you.

But yeah, congratulations on your award.

Obama Administration Proposes LGBT Protections for Home Rental and Ownership

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the following statement late this afternoon.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan today announced a series of proposals to ensure that HUD’s core housing programs are open to all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The evidence is clear that some are denied the opportunity to make housing choices in our nation based on who they are and that must end,” said Donovan. “President Obama and I are determined that a qualified individual and family will not be denied housing choice based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The initiatives announced today will be a proposed rule that will provide the opportunity for public comment. The proposed rule will:

  • clarify that the term “family” as used to describe eligible beneficiaries of our public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs include otherwise eligible lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender (LGBT) individuals and couples. HUD’s public housing and voucher programs help more than three million families to rent an affordable home. The Department’s intent to propose new regulations will clarify family status to ensure its subsidized housing programs are available to all families, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • require grantees and those who participate in the Department’s programs to comply with local and state non-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation or gender identity; and
  • specify that any FHA-insured mortgage loan must be based on the credit-worthiness of a borrower and not on unrelated factors or characteristics such as sexual orientation or gender identity.

In addition to issuance of proposed rule, HUD will commission the first-ever national study of discrimination against members of the LGBT community in the rental and sale of housing.

HUD expects to begin the regulatory process immediately. The LGBT discrimination study is similarly fast tracked. HUD undertook important research in 1977, 1989 and 2000 to study the impact of housing discrimination on the basis of race and color. It is believed that LGBT individuals and families may remain silent because in many local jurisdictions, they may have little or no legal recourse. HUD’s study will examine housing discrimination based on Sexual orientation or gender identity.

While there are no national assessments of LGBT housing discrimination, there are state and local studies that have shown this sort of bias. For example, Michigan’s Fair Housing Centers found that nearly 30 percent of same-sex couples were treated differently when attempting to buy or rent a home. Please visit online. (pdf)

Thirty-three states (including mine) provide no housing protection for LGBT people. Of those, sixteen states have no protection even on a city- or county-level. (See Michigan study (pdf) for more details.)

When/If the proposed regulations go into effect, this will be an important step forward especially for the trans community, known to be much more at risk for unemployment, underemployment, and homelessness. And because the regulations don’t have to wait for congressional approval, implementation should be swift.

Good work Mr. President, and thank you.

(h/t @sisterstalk)

American Hero Fought at Omaha Beach for Equality of ALL People

This video has been bouncing across the gay interwebs at lightning speed this morning, as goddamn well it should. It’s from a Maine Senate Committee hearing in April before the Maine legislature voted to recognize equality in marriage.

I dare you not to cry.

We have two weeks left to fight before the people of Maine and Washington vote. Donate to Maine’s No on One campaign here and Washington’s Approve Referendum 71 here.

(transcript for posterity and search engines. I’ve made a few minor adjustments where Mr. Spooner misread; I’m fairly certain they’re correct.)

PHILIP SPOONER, SR: Good morning, committee. My name is Philip Spooner and I live at [redacted] in Biddeford. I am 86 years old, a lifetime Republican, and an active VFW chaplain. I still serve three hospitals and two nursing homes, and I also served meals on wheels for twenty years. My wife of 54 years, Jenny, died in 1997. Together we had four children, including one gay son. All four of our boys were in the service.

I was born on a potato farm north of Caribou and Perham, where I was raised to believe that all men are created equal, and I’ve never forgotten that. I served in the US Army 1940-1945 in the First Army as a medic and an ambulance driver. I worked with every outfit over there including Patton’s Third Army. I saw action in all five major battles in Europe including the Battle of the Bulge. My unit was awarded Presidential Citations for transporting more patients with fewer accidents than any other ambulance unit in Europe, and I was in the liberation of Paris. After the war, I carried POWs back from Poland, Hungary, and Yugoslavia, and also hauled hundreds of injured Germans back to Germany.

I’m here today because of a conversation I had last year when I was voting. A woman at my polling place asked me, “Do you believe in equality for gay and lesbian people?” I was pretty surprised to be asked a question like that; it made no sense to me.

Finally I asked her, “What do you think our boys fought for at Omaha Beach?” I have seen so much blood and guts, so much suffering, so much sacrifice. For what? For freedom and equality. These are the values that make America a great nation, one worth dying for.

I give talks to eighth grade teachers about World War II, and I don’t tell them about the horror. Maybe I have to invite them to the ovens at Buchenwald and Dachau. I’ve seen with my own eyes the consequences of caste systems, and it makes some people less than others, or second class.

Never again. We must have equal rights for everyone; it’s what this country was started for. It takes all kinds of people to make a world. It doesn’t make sense that some people who love each other can marry and others can’t, just because of who they are. This is what we fought for in World War II, that idea that we can be different and still be equal.

My wife and I did not raise four sons with the idea that three of them would have a certain set of rights, but our gay child would be left out. We raised them all to be hard-working, proud, and loyal Americans, and they all did good.

I think if two adults who love each other want to get married, they should be able to. Everybody’s supposed to be equal in this country. Let gay people have the right to marry.

Thank you.