Monday, January 31, 2011

Gov. Quinn to Sign Ill. Civil Unions Bill

Courtesy of the Huffington Post, Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois will sign into law today a bill allowing gay couples to enter into civil unions.  The state legislature had signed the bill into law last month.

Attendance for the signing ceremony, which is today at 4 p.m. at the Chicago Cultural Center, is expected to be extraordinarily high due to the historic nature of the bill: very few states allow civil unions, with only five states and the District of Columbia allowing full equal marriage.

While not as extensive as marriage, the civil unions will give gay couples some of the same rights, including hospital visitation and next of kin responsibilities: civil unions are, then, the first word, not the last, on LGBT equality in the realm of marriage in the state of Illinois.

With any civil unions or domestic partnerships bill comes the inevitable debate: should we be taking this incremental approach to marriage rights (by pursuing first civil unions, and then full marriage equality), or should we solely be focused on marriage equality? 

It seems, on the one hand, that this incremental approach may make the process lengthier and subject to "fatigue," whereby people get so used to having a separate institution for gay couples, and start to (falsely) believe that the rights are the same, that they see no need to allow gay marriage.

On the other hand, one could argue that with civil unions gay couples gain rights (although they certainly aren't full rights) sooner than they would if we solely fought for gay marriage, and civil unions can work as a stepping stone towards full marriage equality; for instance, in the state of Connecticut, civil unions were passed into law, and then gay couples successfully sued on the grounds that they created separate institutions for different people).

What do you think?  What is the most effective way to pursue marriage equality?

Bonus: with the fight for marriage equality in mind, don't forget to vote in our poll over whether we should spend our time and effort lobbying on ENDA, or if we have more important battles to wage.  You only have one more day to vote!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Boycott Chick-fil-A at GWU

I have written in the past of Chick-fil-A's homophobic tendencies.  The restaurant chain proudly supports Focus on the Family, an anti-gay organization that sponsors the "ex-gay" ministry, Love Won Out.  FoF is responsible for such statements as “homosexuality will destroy the earth” and “gay marriage will lead to marriage between daddies and little girls."

Every day, it seems that Chick-fil-A's ties to the anti-gay right become more and more defined.  They catered an event sponsored by the Pennsylvania Family Institute, an affiliate of FoF and one of the leading anti-gay orgs in Pennsylvania.  They have sponsored events featuring FoF, the American Family Association and the Family Research Council.  Their charitable arm, the WinShape Foundation, has deep and direct ties to the National Organization for Marriage, the Institute for American Values, and Exodus International.

FoF, AFA, FRC, NOM, IAV, Exodus International... These are some of the most infamously anti-gay organizations in this country, pillars of the "protect marriage" movement, and all of them have direct ties to Chick-fil-A.  There is video evidence of these connections.

Additionally, the WinShape Retreat Center, owned and operated by affiliates of Chick-fil-A, expressly states that they do not allow gay couples to use their facilities. 

Chick-fil-A's homophobia - to the point of blatant discrimination - could not be made any clearer.  And they are operating in our school, and profiting off our students.

The GWU dining hall, J Street, contains a Chic-fil-A.  It is a small establishment, but it does a good business.  In light of Chick-fil-A's long history of anti-gay behavior and deep ties to other anti-gay groups, I strongly urge all GWU students and faculty to boycott Chick-fil-A indefinitely.  Such a radical organization should not be getting a single dollar from the tolerant, accepting community of GWU, especially when we know that money is going to fall into the hands of the likes of FoF and NOM.

I further call on President Knapp and the GW Student Association to eliminate Chick-Fil-A from J Street. This should not have a profound effect on our contract with Sodexo, as we can fill the space with another Sodexo-partnered institution that does not support such adamantly anti-gay organizations.

Other schools have begun to do this already: the Indiana University South Bend campus has removed Chic-fil-A after being petitioned by its LGBT student org and straight allies.  IU South Bend is the first school to take this step, but I expect it will not be the last.

I call on the GWU community to do everything it can - through boycott and through petition - to eliminate Chick-fil-A's presence from our campus.  This is a step we can take - a step we must take - to show the entire nation that ours is a school that supports all members of its community, including our LGBT students and faculty.

Save Brenda Namigadde

Eight years ago, lesbian activist Brenda Namigadde fled Uganda, where she is a wanted woman.  In Uganda, the penalty for homosexuality is death.  Now, Ms. Namigadde faces deportation from the United Kingdom: in a matter of days, unless we do something, she will be sent back to Uganda, where the likes of David Bahati, the bitterly homophobic politician who authored the infamous "Kill the Gays" bill, will be waiting to see her executed.

The stakes could not be higher: if Brenda returns to Uganda, she will be killed.  It is that simple.

The LGBT community cannot sit by while one of our own faces deportation and death.  Stand with Brenda Namigadde: sign All Out's letter to UK Home Secretary Theresa May and urge her to stop Brenda's deportation.  Spread this letter far and wide: let every good man and woman know that their immediate assistance is necessary and vital to saving an innocent woman from a homophobic government.

Her very life depends on your help.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

ENDA MIA From SOTU

In Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama urged Congress to focus on job creation for the millions of Americans who remain unemployed. However, he failed to account for the thousands who will be unable to take those jobs due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 29 states, you can be fired just for being gay; in 38, just for being transgender. Congress has failed to pass a fully-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) despite its being introduced every Congress since 1994. The 111th Congress represented the LGBT community’s best chance at getting federal protection from workplace discrimination, but they were let down thanks to the political cowardice of their so-called “fierce advocates” in Washington.

When asked whether Obama would work on ENDA this Congress, outgoing Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that he would, even in spite of the GOP’s recent takeover of the House. We are encouraged to hear that he intends to push for this very important legislation even in the face of increasingly long odds. But in his most high-profile speech of the year, a speech in which the president is meant to outline his legislative priorities for the coming session, Obama failed to mention ENDA at all. This is a grave disappointment to the many people who desperately need ENDA in order to make an honest living.

Obama must make a fully-inclusive ENDA a legislative priority this year; he must push both Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike to consider this legislation. If Obama or any other politician is serious about jobs, then he must remain committed to ensuring that all Americans are equally eligible for those jobs.

BREAKING: Obama to Highlight DADT Repeal in SOTU

It appears that a rough draft of tonight's State of the Union address has leaked.

After a quick perusal, I located a mention of LGBT rights; I had predicted earlier this week that ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) would not be mentioned, and if this leak is legit, then my prediction has been confirmed.  However, Obama does plan, it seems, on mentioning our victory in repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  Here's the text from that segment of the address:

We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.

Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families. Let us serve them as well as they have served us – by giving them the equipment they need; by providing them with the care and benefits they have earned; and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.

Our troops come from every corner of this country – they are black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. And with that change, I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.
I had predicted that the address would be heavily permeated with tinges of bipartisanship, and his mention of DADT repeal is no different: he makes it quite clear that such "divisive battles" as prohibiting gay people from serving openly in the military must end so that we can "move forward as one nation."

I am happy that Obama is taking the time tonight to highlight an accomplishment both for the LGBT community (although let us not forget that transgender people still cannot serve) and for the administration.  However, I am disappointed (although not surprised) that he is not pushing, in the most high-profile presidential address of the year, for a fully-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, so that all people can work without fear of being fired because of who they are.

The LGBT community needs ENDA.  There are over 20 states where you can be fired for being gay, and over 30 where you can be fired for being transgender.  President Obama must call on Congress to pass a fully-inclusive ENDA this year.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Dying Father's Last Words

My father passed away last week; the funeral was this weekend. I don’t plan to talk much about this on here, as I believe it is inappropriate given the scope of this blog, and also extraordinarily personal.

However, I wanted to share with you something he told me the final time we spoke. He had been planning to leave a letter for myself and for my brother to read after he passed away, but due to a sudden turn for the worse, he was unable to write them: he delivered them instead face-to-face.

I will share with you but one sentence from his “last letter” to me:

“I know that there are some things you have been secretive about – and you have the right to be secretive – but you should know that your mother and I love you unconditionally; we always have, and we always will.”

The “secretive things” he was referring to was mainly my sexuality; both of my parents (and all of my friends) know that I am gay, but my extended family does not.

This one sentence, this one thought, touched me so deeply. Unconditional love is something that all children deserve from their parents, but which so many fail to receive. Love without exception, love without qualifier, love without prerequisite – that is the only type of love a parent must foster for his or her children.

My father, by the way, was a Republican, through and through. There was a lot we would disagree on when it came to politics. But my father was a good man: he believed in equality for all people, and that included in the institution of marriage. I remember several years ago, when Massachusetts was first legalizing gay marriage, my father told me he believed that gay marriage would be a reality, nation-wide, in 10 years. Who knows if the future will validate his prediction.

These were my father’s last words to me, his final confession to me: that he loved me unconditionally, regardless of any one aspect of my being. Would that we were all so fortunate to be given the boundless love that my father had for me.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

ENDA in the Senate?

There was an interesting article in the Washington Blade a few days ago on the possibility of the Senate taking up and passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The very notion of Congress tackling any LGBT issues over the next two years – during which Republicans will have control over the House – seems unbelievable, but the article makes it clear that there is a chance that the Senate could vote on ENDA, with positive outcomes.

(Actually, the Senate – as well as the House – could have voted on ENDA over the last two years with positive outcomes, but there’s this strange idea floating around Washington that the LGBT community is only worth one major bill per year, and so we were granted hate crimes legislation and DADT repeal, and that was it for us in the 111th Congress. Even so, according to Act On Principles’ public whip counts for the House and Senate, I think ENDA probably would have passed in both chambers. Hindsight 20/20 and all that.)

As Majority Leader Harry Reid tells the Blade, any bill, including ENDA, will require significant support from Republicans: now that Democrats are down to a majority of 53 (including independents Lieberman and Sanders), at least seven Republicans will have to be on board with ENDA, and that’s only if every single Democrat supports the legislation as well. I’m not entirely confident we can count on the likes of, for instance, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the only Democrat not to support DADT repeal.

However, we know that, at the very least, Senators Collins and Snowe will support ENDA, as they were co-sponsors of the legislation last Congress. We can also count on Kirk, who supported the legislation in the House. Given that eight Republicans supported DADT repeal, I do think it’s possible that we could also win over moderate Republicans like Murkowski, Voinovich, etc.

Everything is still very much up in the air, and ENDA will probably not be a legislative priority this congress, but a preliminary look at the logistics reveals that Senate passage of ENDA may be within reach. It would take a lot of work on our end, both from our large interest groups and from our grassroots campaigners, but it is not at all out of the realm of possibility.

But is there even a point to passing ENDA in the Senate, knowing it would never pass under Republican House leadership? As an anonymous Republican aide said, “You have to approach this as kind of putting bricks in the wall.” Working on ENDA in the Senate now would make it easier to pass it in both chambers next time we have the opportunity to do so, some would argue, as we would be able to say that it had already passed once in the Senate (the vote would be a symbolic statement, in that sense), and we would also have the necessary “infrastructure” for passing the bill that much more easily next time around.

However, it is not as though the LGBT community will not have anything to do over the next two years. There will be marriage equality battles in several states, including New Hampshire, where NOM and other anti-gay orgs are trying to roll back equality where it already exists. Even though some believe this is a state issue, our entire nationwide community needs to be on red alert for when the anti-equality troops go marching into equality states and try to drag them back in time. Working on ENDA now, some might argue, would mean taking precious time and resources away from other, more immediately pressing issues.

An interesting choice, and certainly one worth debating. What do you think: should the LGBT community lobby the Senate on ENDA now?  Vote in our poll on the right-hand sidebar, and sound off in the comments section.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Obama's Memorial Address Spot On

President Obama spoke last night at a memorial service for the victims of Saturday’s tragic shooting in Tucson, Ariz. His thirty-minute speech – made so long due to extensive interruptions of applause – was perfect for the moment, both expressing grief over the lives lost, and hope for those who survived and for our country moving forward.

Obama started by eulogizing all of the victims, giving brief descriptions of their lives; each victim’s short obituary was capped off with respectful applause from the assembled audience. Obama went on to thank the heroes of the day, including gay intern Daniel Hernandez, who aided the wounded – including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords – following the attack, and the man and woman responsible for wrestling the gun out of the shooter’s hand and tackling him to the ground; the president joined the crowd in cheering for these heroes.

Obama did not shy away from touching on the vitriol that pervades our national discourse, making it clear that he does believe our debates need to be toned down in response to the shooting: “At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized… it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”

However, he was quick to add that there is, as of now, no certain connection between the domestic terrorist’s attack and Republicans' violent words and imagery.

“The truth is, none of us can know what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s heart.

What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more reason to turn on each other. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves in all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.”
Towards the end of his address, Obama took on a very hopeful yet pragmatic tone, saying that “we may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat each other is entirely up to us.”

All taken together, the president’s memorial address was right on the money: it offered respect and condolences to each individual who deserved it, and also looked at the big picture - that of our vitriolic debates, and that of our need to rise up out of this tragedy spiritually stronger than ever before.

Obama has always been praised for his speech-making, and his memorial address in Tucson was no exception.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Candlelight Vigil in DC for Rep. Giffords et al

UPDATE: I just returned from the vigil.  Below are some photos from the event: unfortunately I could not take many, as once the vigil started I was standing directly behind the speakers.


Tonight (Jan. 9) at 5 p.m., there will be a candlelight vigil held in Washington, DC. for Rep. Giffords and the others who were shot at a meet and greet in Tucson, Ariz.

Giffords remains in critical condition after being shot point-blank in the head; many others were killed, including a nine-year-old girl and a federal judge.

From the facebook page for the event:
We all experienced a horrible, yet eye opening tragedy. Humans, including a beautiful... 9 yr old girl, newly elected to student council, a 30 yr old engaged man ready to begin life, not end it, and the many others hurt in the Tuscon shooting.

Rep. Giffords was out there advocating moderate and thoughtful discussion and progression. Her staff supported her, her constituents believed in her. Those killed and those wounded deserve to be honored, this candle light vigil is to honor them and to begin the conversation on how we all can learn and grow.
The vigil will be held at the Peace Fountain in the center of Dupont Circle and should last roughly one hour. 

The event has been organized by Michael Talon, and will feature a bipartisan array of speakers from Arizona, immigrant rights, LGBT rights, and interfaith leadership.

I will be in attendance if possible, and will post pictures and remarks on the vigil afterwards.

Please try to attend this vigil - or one in your town - if you can: this was a horrible tragedy and we need to stand in solidarity with those who were affected.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

And Cicilline Makes Four

As the 112th Congress is sworn in, beginning a Republican majority in the House and launching Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) into the prominent position of Speaker of the House, it is important to note that we now have four openly gay representatives currently serving in the House, moreso than ever before.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) was sworn in today, joining Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.).  Cicilline is the seventh openly gay congressional candidate in history to win election.

But while this is certainly a milestone worth celebrating, we should also keep in mind that this is still not remotely proportional to the size of our community within the US population. 

The size of the gay population is difficult to pinpoint, but most agree that it is somewhere around 6% of the total US population.  For the LGBT community to be proportionally represented in congress, we would need the House to be 6% openly gay as well, which would be 26 openly gay congressmen.  Right now, the percentage of Congress which is openly gay is only .9%.

We have a lot of work to do until LGBT interests are sufficiently represented in congress.  But today, let's congratulate Cicilline on his swearing-in and look forward to future electoral victories for the LGBT community.