Archive for the ‘Activism’ Category

I am repeating a wonderful post from the GLAAD blog. While I have expressed tremendous concerns that the president was backing away from his clear campaign commitment to end — read REPEAL — the gay military ban, I am thrilled to share very positive news.

TsaoLieutenant Sandy Tsao is a Chinese American woman and an army officer based out of St. Louis, Missouri. Last January, she made the brave decision to come out as gay. At the same time, Sandy also sent a heartfelt letter to President Obama urging him to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT).

As part of her letter to the president Lieutenant, Tsao wrote:

Today is Chinese New Year day. I hope it will bring good fortune to you and your newly elected office. Today is also the day I inform my chain of command of who I am. One of the seven army values is integrity. It means choosing to do the right thing no matter what the consequences may be. As a Christian, this also means living an honest life.

In closing, she wrote:

We have the best military in the world and I would like to continue to be part of it. My mother can tell you it is my dream to serve our country. I have fought and overcome many barriers to arrive at the point I am at today. This is the only battle I fear I may lose. Even if it is too late for me, I do hope, Mr. President, that you will help us to win the war against prejudice so that future generations will continue to work together and fight for our freedoms regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.

This past Tuesday, May 5, Sandy received a package from the White House. As Sandy unwrapped the thick envelope and looked inside, she tearfully fell to her knees. Protected between two pieces of cardboard, the parcel contained a handwritten note from President Obama.

The President, responding to Sandy’s letter, wrote:

Obama DADT

Sandy – Thanks for the wonderful and thoughtful letter. It is because of outstanding Americans like you that I committed to changing our current policy. Although it will take some time to complete (partly because it needs Congressional action) I intend to fulfill my commitment. — Barack Obama.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of this 43 word note. No president in history has so decisively expressed a commitment to repeal DADT.

Okay, Mr. President, you’ve got my attention. Maybe I was too quick to believe that you — like so many others — would leave us behind. This is your “Get Out of Jail Free Card,” you only get one. Now, deliver on your promise to Liuetenant Tsao, and to the hundreds of thousands of brave gay men and women who had fought in silence for a freedom so long denied to them.

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liar-liarThe blogosphere is on fire regarding perceived changes by the administration on repeal of DADT – the military ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Just last month the New York Times reported that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates stated that any repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law would have to be undertaken slowly, and suggested that it might not happen at all.

Yesterday, gay blogger JoeMyGod and others noted that the White House’s civil rights webpage was revised from eight GLBT campaign promises to three. And the language of “repealing DADT” is now revised to “changing DADT.”

This is typical Washington. Send someone out — in this case Defense Secretary Gates — to seed a policy change and then implement the change in official documents. When called on the change, say it’s “a clarification.”

When I worked with the Clinton Administration, I learned that he treated his enemies far better than his friends. We have already seen Obama totally backpedal on fixing the tax-funded discriminatory hiring of the federal faith-based initiative. He not only has continued the Bush program including all executive orders, memos and agency directives, he expanded the program.

Now it seems that we are seeing the same two-step on the gay ban.

I guarantee that there will be hell to pay if Obama does “a Clinton” and abuses the gay community and the hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian men and women who have served this country proudly — but silently — because they couldn’t be who they are.

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Rachel Maddow interviewed Judy Shepard – mother of slain Matthew Shepard – last night in response to the outrageous comments by Rep. Virginia Foxx (F-NC) calling Matt’s death “a hoax,” contrived to pass hate crimes legislation (which passed the House of Representatives by an excess of 75 votes).

I encourage my readers
to contact Rep. Foxx’s office and let her know what you think about her stateement — and her “semantic” clarification.

It’s impossible to get through to Foxx’s office by phone, but I was able to fax to her DC office yesterday (twice). Foxx’s DC Office fax is: 202-225-2995.

Let her know what you think about her comments; I did!

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action-alert1We just got the news: the U.S. House has passed the fully inclusive Matthew Shepard Act.

This was not an easy victory. But we WON in the House – thanks in part to the tireless, fearless Judy Shepard, who joined Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign in critical last-minute meetings on Capitol Hill today.

It happened! Now the battle moves to the Senate.

We need every Senator to know we want quick action on the inclusive hate crimes bill. You’ve emailed, you’ve called, you’ve donated – and I thank you deeply – but I hope you understand that this fight is far from over.

President Obama has pledged to sign the bill, but to get it to his desk we’ll need to pass it through the Senate first. And with the lies from right-wing groups ALREADY intensifying – one group went so far as to say the bill makes “pedophiles a protected class” and is “pro-child molester” – it’s not going to be easy.

For more information of what happened today, and what you can do to assure passage in the Senate, click here!

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mattcollageToday, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) introduced the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Senate version of hate crimes legislation now being considered by the House. Kennedy stated that this legislation is “long overdue” and added “hate crimes are especially poisonous.”

President Obama issued a statement in support of the bill yesterday.

“This week, the House of Representatives is expected to consider H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. I urge members on both sides of the aisle to act on this important civil rights issue by passing this legislation to protect all of our citizens from violent acts of intolerance – legislation that will enhance civil rights protections, while also protecting our freedom of speech and association. I also urge the Senate to work with my Administration to finalize this bill and to take swift action,”

But there are the naysayers – from members of Congress (unremarkable from the republican party) to Cable TV pundits — who are gunning against passage.

During a House Judiciary meeting, U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) asked why prostitutes weren’t included in the bill, stating that people who hate prostitutes as a class sometimes murder them for this reason. “Should there be an amendment to this to say that prostitutes are a protected class?” she said. “Why is it worse to go after someone who’s gay than going after someone who’s a prostitute?”

So why bother with hate crimes legislations, particular for LGBT folks? As some have asked, aren’t all crimes based on hate? The question deserves a response.

These are my thoughts. What makes a “hate crime” particularly egregious is that it targets an individual – solely because she or he is a member of a group that has been historically victimized and vilified by the larger majority society. Further, the characteristics that define an individual’s membership within this minority group are independent of choice. We know that gay and lesbian people don’t choose to be homosexual; it is both fixed and immutable.

Because GLBT folks have been and continue to be hated simply because of who they are, it is the responsibility of government to both provide protections and to let the wider community know that crimes against the group are a heightened offense.

Rep. Foxx’s comparison of GLBT folks to prostitutes, of course, is ridiculous and offensive (why it is so common for republicans to make such dumb-ass statements?). I didn’t choose to be gay. The choice that I made and continue to make is to life my life with some honesty and integrity – a decision that every LGBT person faces. And because I make this choice shouldn’t bring the added danger of becoming a crime victim – simply because I am a gay man.

The Washington Blade states that:

“The passage of hate crimes legislation would allow the U.S. Justice Department to assist in the prosecution of hate crimes committed against LGBT people that result in death or serious injury. The federal government could lend its assistance to local authorities or take the lead if local officials are unwilling or unable to prosecute cases. Further, the legislation would make grants available to state and local communities to train law enforcement officials, combat hate crimes committed by juveniles and investigate bias-motivated violence.”

The passage of inclusive Federal Hate Crimes Legislation won’t bring Matthew Shepard back to us, but maybe – just maybe – another young gay teen won’t have to pay with his life just for being who he is.

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action-alertAction Alert:

The U.S. House votes tomorrow on the Matthew Shepard Act – the federal hate crimes bill. Judy Shepard and millions of others have been waiting for ten years for fully inclusive hate crimes legislation.
Text, CALL, or dial 202-684-2471 and urge your representative to vote YES.

It just takes a minute – do it now!

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no-hateToday, I came across a great post by Chris Sanders on the case for hate crimes legislation. Chris is a blogger for Grand Divisions, a blog produced by the Tennessee Equality Project, the state’s largest GLBT organization. Chris is also chair of the organization. I thank him for his brilliant exposé and allowing me to repost his important work.

There is a general consensus in the GLBT community that hate crimes laws should include sexual orientation and gender identity. That doesn’t mean everyone within the community agrees and it certainly doesn’t mean everyone else agrees.

Here are the opportunities before us. First, in Tennessee, HB 0335/SB 0253 was introduced in the General Assembly this year. It would add gender identity as a sentencing enhancement factor; sexual orientation is already covered under Tennessee law. There is no fiscal note on the bill, which gets rid of one opposing argument right off the bat. Second, we have hopes that the Matthew Shepard Act or the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act will be passed at the federal level later this year. The bill would…

  • remove the current prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally-protected activity, like voting or going to school;
  • give federal authorities greater ability to engage in hate crimes investigations that local authorities choose not to pursue;
  • provide $10 million in funding for 2008 and 2009 to help State and local agencies pay for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes;
  • require the FBI to track statistics on hate crimes against transgender people (statistics for the other groups are already tracked)

So what are the objections?

First, some religious right groups have been spreading the myth/lie/falsehood/ruse that hate crimes laws regulate speech. It’s not true. Neither the state nor the federal bill deals with speech. You can still preach against the GLBTs from the pulpit if you choose. As Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) puts the matter eloquently:

Second, we often hear opponents, even within the GLBT community, argue that the hate part doesn’t make any difference. A murder is a murder, after all. Right? Not true. First, of all, many hate crimes don’t result in death. They can range from vandalism to assault to murder. The hate factor does matter because legal proceedings do consider motive and it is basic to criminal law to look at different categories of crime–viz., assault vs. aggravated assault. How many words do we have for a crime when someone is killed? Manslaughter, homicide, first-degree murder, etc. If there is a pattern of crimes that share a common motivation and target something specific about a group of victims, isn’t it in society’s interest to track them and treat them differently? Doesn’t that kind of focus help us solve and prevent those crimes more effectively? What you’re basically saying, if you oppose hate crimes legislation, is that you don’t give a damn if particular kinds of victims are protected and receive justice.

Third, there’s a new argument against hate crimes legislation that I’m starting to see coming from the left. Some are arguing (and get ready to cringe when you read the phrase) that hate crimes laws prop up the “prison industrial complex.” In other words, hate crimes laws would simply put more disadvantaged people in our mismanaged and oppressive prisons. These same critics would argue that hate crimes laws don’t work any way.

After getting past the eye-rolling about the phrase “prison industrial complex,” the response to this line of argument is clear. Society has the right and responsibility to protect itself from violent offenders. The fact that our prisons are mismanaged and oppressive is such a broad argument that it would seem to justify not putting anyone else in them. If someone is convicted of a dangerous crime, he or she needs to be locked up. The argument also ignores the fact that most of the victims themselves are from racial, ethnic, and religious minority communities. Even in the GLBT community, the victims are often African-American. Consider the two transgender women in Memphis who were murdered and the third who was shot in the face last year–all African-American. And according to the Department of Justice, many of these crimes are committed for the “thrill” of it. Class isn’t necessarily the dominant factor in sorting out the perpetrators. In fact, the average perpetrator of anti-gay violence can be your typical college student who may not be particularly disadvantaged at all, according to some studies. In this young adult age group, the motivations are described as self-defense against perceived sexual propositions, an anti-gay ideology, peer influence, and (in agreement with the Department of Justice) thrill seeking.

So are hate crimes laws effective? Standing alone, they will not prevent hate crimes. Education is necessary, too. If there are not aggressive prosecutions, then they won’t work. We have not had aggressive prosecutions in Tennessee with respect to anti-gay hate crimes. In fact, we have not had aggressive investigations of hate crimes in Tennessee. That’s precisely why the Matthew Shepard Act would make a difference. It would provide resources for investigating hate crimes and it would allow the federal government to step in if local authorities chose not to pursue acts of hate.

In rural Tennessee, it is often difficult for elected district attorneys and elected sheriffs to puruse a matter as a hate crime. That’s not to say they don’t do their jobs in taking on acts of vandalism, murder, etc. But it is up to the D.A. to go after the sentencing enhancement. It almost never happens. And there are no extra resources for county sheriffs and city police departments to conduct adequate investigations of the hate angle. So to argue that hate crimes laws don’t work is speculative at best since they really haven’t had a chance to be tested.

Based on other kinds of hate crimes, like cross burnings, that are less common today, I think we can make an educated guess that adding sexual orientation and gender identity to hate crimes, would have a positive effect. In other eras, the practice was fairly common. Twenty occurred between October 2005 and April 2007, according to the FBI. Because race is covered by federal hate crimes laws, here’s what the FBI says it can offer in invesigating these acts of hate:

What do we bring to the table? Two things primarily.

First, our full suite of investigative and intelligence capabilities. For example:

  • We can use our intelligence to provide a broader understanding of any involved organized hate groups; we may also have or be able to develop informants or other sources of information in these groups or in the area.
  • We can run undercover or surveillance operations and send in our evidence response teams to help secure and map crime scenes.
  • Where needed, we can lend our laboratory and computer forensic expertise.
  • Using our network of national and even international offices, we can help run down leads that cross jurisdictional boundaries.
  • We can send in teams of specialists to help victims of the crimes.
  • We can issue wanted flyers for suspects on the lam.

Second, the full force of federal civil rights statutes when warranted. In some cases, for example, states may not even have hate crime laws on the books.

If the GLBT community is the target of hate violence, doesn’t it seem reasonable to extend these resources to our community as well?

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shepardWhen he was discovered tied to a picket fence, he looked like a scarecrow. His face was completely red, except for two vertical lines streaming from his eyes. The lines had been where tears washed away blood from his young face. He remained in a coma and never regained consciousness, and passed away five days later from severe head trauma. His name was Mathew Shepard.

Matt was a 21 year-old University of Wyoming student. He was attacked – really tortured – over the night of October 6-7, 1998 by Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney. During the trial, witnesses stated that Shepard was targeted solely because he was gay. Henderson pleaded guilty to felony murder and kidnapping, a plea that spared him the death penalty. McKinney was also convicted of felony murder and kidnapping. Yet, he was spared the death penalty at the request of Matt’s parents.

hendersenWhile in jail during his trail, Henderson bragged to his cellmates that he “killed a fag,” a point that wasn’t lost on Judge Barton Voigt during sentencing. Henderson’s attorney tried – quite unsuccessfully – to argue “gay panic.” This is a not-uncommon defense used by perpetrators of violence against gays, lesbians, or transgender people. The argument goes that the victim made a sexual pass and the perpetrator was so overwhelmed by revulsion and disgust that they were driven to temporary insanity and had to strike out – thus, the “panic” defense. In Henderson’s trial the judge wouldn’t allow his attorney to use this lame excuse. It’s also worth noting that Matthew stood five foot, two inches and weighed 105 pounds. Not exactly a hulk against the likes of McKinney and Henderson.

During the investigation and trial it was discovered that around midnight on Oct. 7, Shepard met McKinney and Henderson in a bar. McKinney and Henderson offered Shepard a ride home. Subsequently, Shepard was robbed, pistol-whipped, tortured, tied to a fence in a remote, rural area and left for dead because he was gay.

god-hates-fagsSome events are just bigger than themselves, and so it is with the Shepard murder. A floodlight has been brought to the prevalence of crimes against gay and lesbian people – crimes solely motivated by hatred of gay people as members of the group. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, including pre-school children, picketed Matt’s funeral with their signs, “God Hates Fags, and “Matt’s Burning in Hell.” For the first time, the U.S. began a long journey in understanding the importance of including sexual orientation – and later – gender identify in federal protection.

There’s nothing like the love of a mother. Matt’s mother quickly became an activist pushing for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in federal hate crimes legislation. Our hats go off to Judy Shepard. She has taken her pain and launched the Mathew Shepard Foundation which supports diversity and tolerance in youth organizations.

Listen to her message regarding pending federal legislation.

As Matt’s mother so eloquently states, after ten years we need to update our federal hate crimes legislation to include crimes committed against gay, lesbian, and transgender folks.

Federal hate crimes legislation, renamed the Matthew Shepard Act finally passed both houses of Congress in 2007. Unfortunately – yet predictably – President George W. Bush vetoed the legislation the same year. Then again, this is the very president who twice vetoed SCHIP, the federal legislation that would have expanded healthcare for about 4 million poor kids.

President Obama signed SCHIP into law on Feb. 4, 2009, just 15 days into his new administration. He has indicated that he is committed to the passage of the Matthew Shepard Act.

Contact your members of Congress

On April 22, 2009, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin consideration of federal hate crimes legislation. The bill, H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, would give federal officials authority to prosecute hate crimes targeting people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, among other categories. This is the beginning of a long process. To win passage, your support is crucial.

The Religious Right is adamant in their opposition to this legislation. They argue that the legislation is about “special rights.” Judy Shepard knows better, and so do all people of goodwill.

Let your federal legislators know that ten years is more than enough time to wait to do the right thing. Let them know that over the past ten years, tens of thousands more individuals have been victims of hate crimes. The Human Rights Campaign has put together a tool that makes it easy to send a message to lawmakers in support of the bill’s passage.

Let them know that love conquers hate.

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pepsiThe American Family Association has teamed up with PFOX to launch a boycott of all Pepsi products. They are upset over Pepsi’s support for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), which the AFA claims promotes “intolerance of the ex-gay community.” Which seems very strange to me. If there is such a thing as an “ex-gay community,” it has to be among the most invisible communities in the world. Sort of like the “leprechaun community” or the “pixie community.” Besides I thought the “ex-gay community” was supposed to be the “straight community.”

Anyway, the AFA’s latest action alert, which is ironically titled, “Pepsi refuses to be neutral in the culture war,” says:

By issuing national press releases against PFOX, by organizing protests at ex-gay conferences, by publishing anti-ex-gay literature, and by opposing ex-gays equal access to public venues, Pepsi-supported Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) contributes to the intolerance of the ex-gay community, stereotypes former homosexuals, and continually misrepresents PFOX’s mission.

PFLAG is a vocal and activist homosexual group that calls those who oppose homosexual marriage “the forces of prejudice and discrimination.” PFLAG not only cheered the California Supreme Court’s ruling on May 15 which legalized same-sex marriage, it was also vociferous in its opposition to Proposition 8, the ballot initiative which restored traditional marriage in California on Election Day.

By funding PFLAG, PepsiCo and its shareholders help promote fear and hostility against the ex-gay community and other heterosexuals. PepsiCo is the leading corporate sponsor of PFLAG.

The AFA wants its members to call Pepsi’s corporate office to complain, and they want their members to call their nearest Pepsi bottling company. From what we hear, Pepsi is being bombarded with nasty phone calls.

So let’s all call Pepsi (914-253-2000 or 1-800-433-2652) and tell them we appreciate their support and their refusal to bow to anti-gay extremists. The boycott also extends to other PepsiCo products, like Frito-Lay (800-352-4477), Quaker Oats (800-367-6287), Tropicana (800-237-7799) and Gatorade (800-884-2867).

Source: Box Turtle Bulletin

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homophobiaIn yet another action in support of gay and lesbian civil rights, the Obama administration will endorse a U.N. declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality that then-President George W. Bush had refused to sign, the Associated Press has learned.

U.S. officials said Tuesday they had notified the declaration’s French sponsors that the administration wants to be added as a supporter. The Bush administration was criticized in December when it was the only western government that refused to sign on.

The move was made after an interagency review of the Bush administration’s position on the nonbinding document, which was signed by all 27 European Union members as well as Japan, Australia, Mexico and three dozen other countries, the officials said.

The challenge for full LGBT civil rights must now turn to the U.S. homefront with repeal of the ban on gay servicemen and woman (DADT), passage of inclusive federal hate-crimes legislation and the Employment-Non Discrimination Act (ENDA), and repeal of the the ludicrous Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

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