In last week’s McCullen v. Coakley decision, the Supreme Court was asked to consider whether a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot buffer zone to keep protesters away from reproductive health care clinic entrances or driveways is constitutional. In a unanimous decision written by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court held that this Act violates the First Amendment, delivering a crushing blow to women and advocates for women’s health everywhere. Here’s why they got it wrong.
Ever since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, anti-abortion extremists have targeted reproductive health care providers and facilities across our country. Women who are just trying to access medical care, to which they have every legal right, are targeted with intimidation, harassment, and violence by people who disagree with their right to bodily autonomy. What started as organized protesting, has now led to blockading clinic entrances, bombings, and even chemical attacks, including 654 letters threatening anthrax poisoning sent to abortion clinics during a five year period alone.
In response to this escalation of violence, reproductive health care providers have been forced to take security measures such as hiring security guards, installing security cameras and bullet-proof glass, and wearing bullet-proof vests, just to try to safely perform their jobs helping women who choose to solicit their care.
These incidents are not isolated, and the cloud of fear that this threat creates has devastating effects. 92% of facilities report concern for the safety of their patients and employees entering their facility, while 90% of patients – and 60% of employees – have been scared for their personal safety. And eight out of ten facilities has had to call the police because of safety, access, or criminal activity concerns. This is simply unacceptable.
The Massachusetts law in question, creating 35-foot buffer zones around clinics, was enacted after a man shot Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, employees at two different Massachusetts clinics. The Supreme Court upheld a state law creating an 8-foot floating bubble zone around persons within 100 feet of abortion clinics in the 2000 Hill v. Colorado case. That decision has since served as a model for buffer zones around the country. And while the majority’s opinion in McCullen did not expressly overrule Hill, there is a good argument to be made that it would effectively make buffer zones like those in Colorado unconstitutional.
Buffer zones are of critical importance to the safety of reproductive health care providers, patients and staff. And they have proven effective, leading to a decrease in violence, obstruction, and intimation outside of facilities since they have been adopted. In a 2013 survey, 51% of facilities with buffer zones reported a decrease in criminal activity near the facility after the buffer zone was instituted. And three out of four facilities with buffer zones said that the zones improved access for both patients and staff entering the facilities.
While McCullen cites a First Amendment right to freedom of speech, the Court blatantly disregards states’ freedom to impose “time, place, and manner” restrictions on free speech–which . The Court concedes that the Act is content-neutral: it doesn’t target anti-abortion speech for prohibition, but instead seeks to address a record of crowding, obstruction, and violence outside of clinics caused by speech of all kinds. Even those bringing the case do not dispute the state’s interests in ensuring safety and preventing obstruction.
The Court’s opinion says that the Massachusetts law unconstitutionally restricts access to public ways and sidewalks. But what about the patients? Now that the buffer zone has been eradicated, sidewalks will be more crowded than ever. And while protesters are still prohibited from actually obstructing access to a clinic under various local laws, history has shown that they often ignore the law and obstruct entrances anyway. What about these women? What about their right of way? What about their right to safely access medical care? The Court apparently did not have women in mind when they issued today’s opinion.
The likely and highly foreseeable consequence of eliminating buffer zones is not just that women will be harassed and attacked for exercising their legal right to seek reproductive health care, but that many women will feel uncomfortable enough to avoid the clinic altogether, forgoing the health services they need. Many reproductive health care providers now use clinic escorts to help women safely enter their facilities, a practice that itself shows the grave need for buffer zones outside of clinics.
And while the Court rejects buffer zones outside clinics, they remain an accepted practice elsewhere. As mentioned in a previous blog post, buffer zones are used in other contexts to safeguard the exercise of other fundamental rights, allowing us to vote, attend religious services, and go to school in relative peace.
It is particularly ironic – if not disturbing – that the Supreme Court itself maintains a massive buffer zone around it to prevent exactly the type of behavior clinic patients will now be subjected to thanks to its decision. Given the 252-by-98 foot buffer zone the Supreme Court maintains, it is apparent that the Justices themselves do not feel comfortable exposing themselves to the protests they have no trouble unleashing on others.
Moreover, in high contrast to the jarring statistics of clinic violence, the Court seems to think that abortion clinics are the perfect place for political discussion, and sees no problem with people trying to dissuade women from making choices about their own bodies and lives. Protests outside of clinics are often not civil, and are sometimes even violent. Even when they are not violent, the mere presence of protestors can be intimidating and coercive to women who are considering an important and very personal choice and have not solicited the protestors’ advice.
Before deciding that unrestricted free speech trumps all, that buffer zones are unnecessary, that protestors have more right to express their anger than women have to safely access medical care, think of Dr. David Gunn. Think of Shanon Lowney. Think of Lee Ann Nichols. They were all murdered simply for working at abortion clinics.
This case is not about free speech. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it is. This case is about the systemic and persistent effort to ignore and deny the very real needs of very real women by attacking their right to health care and to full bodily integrity, a war that the anti-choice movement in America has been waging ever since our victory in Roe v. Wade.
By Kristen French, Holley Law Fellow, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Welcome to “The Mile High City!” – where the mountains look like they were painted onto the horizon and the air smells as fresh as ever. Denver is home to the country’s third largest Pride Festival and seventh largest Pride Parade. During Denver’s PrideFest music pulses through every vein and artery of your body and the voices of the marginalized are heard loud and proud. The weekend attracts people from all walks of life, and what from the outside might seem like a tremendous hodgepodge of misfits, there exists a strong sense of unity throughout the event in which each person fits perfectly into a colorful 325,000 piece puzzle of diversity.
That is the magic of Denver Pride.
For two whole days, a spell is cast over the entire city and everyone in it. The Pride Festival is the pumpkin carriage and you are your own Cinderella. Except in this story, there is no Prince Charming because you are your own hero. Pride is the vehicle that drives you to self-love. Pride season is a time of exploration and celebration – an exploration of identity and a celebration of queerness. It is a time to build community – not around the pain and suffering of a group of people, but around the strength and resilience of a group of people. Diversity, though, does not exist in just sexual orientation. Pride season is a reminder of the intersections of identity.
My name is Victoria Francisca Kim, and I am the National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change (Creating Change) intern at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. On June 21st and 22nd, I got to experience all of the magic of Denver Pride. At first, I didn’t know what to expect of the weekend. Arriving in Denver with 2,500 Creating Change palm cards, close to 3,000 Task Force magnets, 4 rolls of Task Force stickers, a large box full of Task Force hand-fans, and another large box full of safer sex kits, I was a little intimidated by it all. I imagined sitting at a table, waiting for people to come up, and talking to them about the Task Force and more specifically Creating Change. For the most part, that is exactly what I did, but it was also so much more than that. I danced to the music playing in the background, smiled at the colorful costumes, and hugged the people giving away free hugs. The passion of Pride permeated Civic Center Park; it was contagious. I found myself getting excited when I came across someone else who was excited to learn more about the Creating Change conference, and I was thrilled when at the end of the trip my colleagues and I had successfully handed out every last item and recruited close to 100 people to sign up to volunteer for the Creating Change Conference coming to Denver in February 2015.
Creating Change, like Pride season, is a time of exploration and celebration. Over the course of its five days of workshops, plenary sessions, and receptions Creating Change grants attendees the opportunity to gain the tools and resources needed to transform their communities into affirming and liberated spaces so there might be Pride all year round. But Creating Change doesn’t magically happen overnight – it is a year round process that relies heavily on the enthusiasm and dedication of hundreds of volunteers and local host committee members.
If you missed the Task Force’s table during Denver Pride and are interested in volunteering for Creating Change, there will be an online registration form up on the Task Force website soon so stay tuned! The 27th Creating Change Conference will be held in the very city of Denver, Colorado from February 4 – 8, 2015. Come help us create change!
In recent years, the LGBTQ movement has achieved an increased acceptance of gays and lesbians and made great progress in securing legal equality for same-sex couples. In communities of faith, too, more and more clergy and congregations have learned to welcome and affirm lesbian and gay members, and many faith traditions now endorse same-sex marriage. But too often, progressive faith leaders who have been on the front lines advocating for LGBTQ liberation have been silent about bisexuality.
Clergy and faith communities have long been on their own to understand and welcome bisexual people. Today our partners at the Religious Institute released a new resource for congregations entitled “Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities.” Co-authored by Marie Alford-Harkey and the Rev. Debra W. Haffner, this guidebook aims to give faith leaders tools to break the silence on bisexuality and fully welcome bisexual people into their congregations.
The guidebook, which is written for a multifaith audience, is in three sections. Part One, “Bisexuality Basics,” includes a definition of terms, research, and myths and facts about bisexuality. Part Two, “Sacred Texts and Religious Traditions,” offers scriptural and theological resources from a variety of faith traditions. Part Three, “Creating a Bisexually Healthy Congregation,” provides tools and strategies to help faith communities become more welcoming and affirming of bisexual people.
The Religious Institute’s bisexuality guidebook complements several resources for clergy and faith communities developed by the Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources, including the Building an Inclusive Church Toolkit, transACTION: A Transgender Curriculum for Churches and Religious Institutions, and A La Familia, a bilingual resources for Latin@ communities.
“Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities” is available here.
by Javen Swanson, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Interim Faith Work Director
This week, nearly 5,000 Presbyterians are gathered in Detroit, Michigan, for the denomination’s 221st biennial General Assembly. There, policies are set for the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its 1.8 million members nationwide.
As the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States, the deliberations taking place there this week could have huge implications for LGBTQ people.
First, an amendment to the Constitution of the PC(USA) would replace the existing language to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples. If passed by a simple majority of delegates at the Assembly, the amendment would also need to be ratified by two-thirds of the denomination’s 172 regional presbyteries.
Second, an “authoritative interpretation” would allow clergy to marry same-sex couples immediately without fear of discipline, regardless of the outcome of the vote on the constitutional amendment.
The last two General Assemblies have seen great advances for LGBTQ inclusion within the PC(USA). Four years ago, the Assembly approved a constitutional amendment allowing for the ordination of LGBTQ clergy. Two years ago, the denomination came very close to extending marriage to same-sex couples, falling short by just a handful of votes.
The Task Force and our Institute for Welcoming Resources is proud to work in coalition with More Light Presbyterians, which work for the full participation of LGBTQ people in the life, ministry, and witness of the PC(USA) and in society. We encourage you to read this reflection by Alex Patchin McNeill, Executive Director of More Light Presbyterians and the first transgender leader of an LGBTQ faith group, as the PC(USA)’s General Assembly begins its work this week.
by Javen Swanson Interim Faith Work Director at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Thursday, June 19, 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM
6:00 PM for nosh/socializing
6:30 PM meeting
The Gill Foundation Community Room
2215 Market Street
Denver, CO, 80205
Creating Changers, bring a friend (or two!) and join your colleagues for fun and fabulous camaraderie. We will discuss our Pride outreach plans. At the meeting you can sign up for a volunteer shift, hear the progress being made by our various subcommittees, get to know your fellow Host Committee members, and plan to create change in Denver, in Colorado, and beyond!
Host Committee meetings will be held on the third Thursday of each month, June 2014 – January 2015. Show your pride in Denver’s LGBT communities by being a part of the action!
The Gill Foundation parking lot is located on the corner of 22nd and Market Street. Once the lot is full, guests should be able to find on-street parking or a nearby lot. The code for the parking lot and the main entrance is 3131#on the black keypad. When the indicator light turns green, give the door a push and a pull to open it. Please note that this code will not be active until exactly 5:30 pm on 6-19-14. The code for the pedestrian gate (to get back into the parking lot) is 4152.
The 27th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change will be held in Denver, February 4 – 8, 2015 at the Sheraton Denver. Each year, the Task Force works with a dedicated group of volunteers who join the conference Host Committee to accomplish critical on-the-ground organizing and outreach. Come be part of it!
Today a very special liturgical stole was added to the Task Force’s Shower of Stoles Project. The stole belonged to Frank Schaefer, an ordained pastor of the United Methodist Church until he was defrocked in 2013 for officiating his son’s same-sex marriage.
Schaefer, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, ministered in eastern Pennsylvania for 20 years before being brought to trial over his refusal to serve in accordance with the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline, which contains rules that discriminate against LGBTQ people. Schaefer’s courageous and faithful act has sent shockwaves through the United Methodist Church and may well be remembered as a galvanizing moment for the welcoming movement within the denomination. Now a United Methodist layperson, speaker, and activist, he continues to advocate for human rights.
The back of Schaefer’s stole contains heartfelt, hand-written messages from his colleagues and supporters: “God made you a prophet.” “Thank you for your strong stance for integrity in the church.” “Frank, ordained in the spirit—an ordination that can never be taken away.” “Thank you for your witness with a father’s love.” “We are greater today because we have been blessed by your courage.”
During his church “trial,” Schaefer wore a rainbow stole. Given the opportunity to give a closing statement, he spoke confidently to the “jury”: “I cannot go back to being a silent supporter,” he said. “I must continue to be in ministry with all people and speak for LGBTQ people. Members of the jury, before you decide my penalty, you need to know I wear this rainbow stole as a visible sign that this is who I am called to be.”
Schaefer went on: “We need to stop judging people. We need to stop the hate speech and treating our brothers and sisters like second-class Christians. We have to stop harming the beloved children of God.”
Frank Schaefer’s story reveals how much work remains to be done to ensure that LGBTQ people and allies can live rich and abundant lives—including freedom from spiritual violence. The Task Force’s Faith Work program works in collaboration with faith partners from a vast array of spiritual and religious traditions, including the Reconciling Ministries Network within the United Methodist Church, to create a world where all people feel safe practicing their faith as they feel called to do.
The Shower of Stoles Project is a collection of over a thousand liturgical stoles and other sacred items representing the lives of LGBTQ people of faith. These religious leaders have served in thirty-two denominations and faith traditions, in six countries, and on three continents. Each stole contains the story of an LGBTQ person who is active in the life and leadership of their faith community in some way. To learn more about the project, or to arrange an exhibit of stoles, visit The Shower of Stoles Project site.
Transgender people have always served in the the military, and are twice as likely to serve in the military than the general population. Yet to this day they remain barred from serving openly. The current ban on transgender people is based on military medical codes, which remained unaffected by the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”–which was a legislative compromise reached in the 1990s that allowed lesbian, bisexual and gay individuals to serve as long as their sexuality wasn’t disclosed.
Advocates, including within the military, have been working tirelessly to remove the ban against transgender people and it seems this work is beginning to pay off. In an exclusive interview on May 11 that aired on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Defense of Secretary Chuck Hagel said he’s now ready to reconsider the ban on transgender people serving in the military. In fact, he went on to say, “I’m open to those assessments, because — again, I go back to the bottom line — every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it,” and furthermore that transgender issues are “an area that we’ve not defined enough.”
Hagel said his biggest concern is providing the medical support necessary to support transgender individuals, especially if they are stationed in what he called “austere locations.”
On May 16, the White House appeared to signal support of Hagel’s comments. In statements made to Metro Weekly, White House Press Secretary Jim Carney said, “I would certainly point you to what Secretary Hagel said and we certainly support his efforts in this area.” These statements seem to show that there has been a dramatic shift in tone by the Pentagon and Obama administration on transgender military service. It seems the administration is headed in the right direction. Secretary Hagel and the administration’s statements are on the heels of a report released by a commission “to consider whether Pentagon policies that exclude transgender service members are based on medically sound reasons.” The Commission, convened by the Palm Center at San Francisco State University, included former US Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders and former Chief Health and Safety Director for the US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Alan Steinman, and its findings were recently published as the Report of the Transgender Military Service Commission.
The Task Force recently released a statement commending the Commission for stating independently what we all know: there is no compelling medical reason to exclude transgender people from serving their country if they choose, and if an individual decided to medically transitions that it would place almost no burden on the military. In August 2013 the Task Force also released a report “Still Serving in Silence: Transgender Service Members and Veterans in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” which provided data to help inform policy decisions on employment, housing, education, access to health care, and identity documents for transgender service members and veterans.
We believe that Secretary Hagel should immediately lift the transgender military service ban. Only by lifting the ban can we finish the job that the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell began.”
Here are six reasons why we recommend that President Obama issue an executive order to lift the transgender military ban:
- There is no documented medical reason for the U.S. armed forces to prohibit transgender Americans from serving
- The Department of Defense’s regulations designed to keep transgender people from joining or remaining in the military on the grounds of psychological and physical unfitness are based on outdated beliefs.
- The ban itself is expensive, damaging, and an unfair barrier to health access for approximately 15,145 transgender personnel who currently serve in active, Guard, and reserve components according to the Commission and an additional 130,000 veterans.
- Lifting the ban places no burden on the military. The Commission rejected the notion that providing hormone treatment or sex reassignment surgeries would be too difficult, disruptive, and expensive are inconsistent with modern medical practice and the scope of health care services routinely provide by non-transgender military personnel.
- At least a dozen nations, including Australia, Canada, England, and Israel, allow military service of transgender individuals.
- Retired Brigadier General Thomas A. Kolditz, former Army Commander and West Point professor on the Commission stated, “Allowing transgender people to serve openly would reduce gender-based harassment, assaults and suicides while enhancing national security.”
The Palm Center Report concludes with policy recommendations that would improve care for U.S. service members without burdening the military’s pursuit of its vital missions:
- Lift the ban on transgender military service.
- Do not write new medical regulations or policies to address health care needs of transgender personnel, and instead, treat transgender service members in accordance with established medical practices and standards.
- Base new administrative guidance on foreign military and U.S. government precedents.
Transgender Americans are serving in the U.S. military. Currently there are over 15,145 transgender personnel who serve in active, Guard, and reserve components of the military. Additionally, there are already civilian transgender employees that work for the Department of Defense. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey(NTDS) report released in 2011, 20% of all respondents said they are or had been a member of the armed forces, and 30% of all respondents who identified as transgender women said they are or had been a member of the armed forces. According to the American Community Survey for 2011, the same year as the NTDS report, 10% of the non-transgender U.S. population had served in the military.
The transgender service member ban serves no purpose. Instead of discriminating against those who risk their lives to protect the government’s armed forces, we urge Secretary Hagel to lift the ban immediately, telling the world that the U.S. proudly respects its soldiers—regardless of gender identity.
Co-authored by Kylar W. Broadus, Senior Policy Counsel and Director of the Trans Civil Rights Project and Arielle P. Schwartz, Holley Law Fellow, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force