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Maryland Transgender Rights Bill Heads to Governor for Signature

March 27, 2014

The Fairness for All Marylanders Act just passed in the House of Delegates by a vote of 82-57 and now heads to Governor O’Malley for his signature. This bill will add explicit protections on the basis of gender identity to Maryland’s non-discrimination laws, making Maryland the 18th state to have such protections, and leaving only three states in the country that have sexual orientation but not gender identity state-wide non-discrimination protections.

The Task Force has been a proud partner with Equality Maryland and the Maryland Coalition for Transgender Equality to work for a statewide trans-inclusive non-discrimination law. The Task Force has been deeply engaged for years working to secure full legal protections for transgender people in Maryland.

Statement by Darlene Nipper, Deputy Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund

This is an enormous victory in the long struggle to end discrimination based on gender identity and expression. Marylanders are against discrimination because of who you are and who you love — and they now have a law that fully reflects this strongly held value. What happened in Maryland will be an inspiration to millions who yearn for a day when our nation is free from the scourge of discrimination in all its forms. Today’s victory is also the culmination of many years of hard work — building support from the grassroots up, moving hearts and minds, and securing the votes for passage. It would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Equality Maryland and Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality. We would also like to thank those members and leaders in the Maryland House and Senate who worked so hard to advance and pass this legislation. We now look forward to Governor O’Malley’s expected signature.

House Dems Demand a Vote on Immigration Reform: Say to Boehner “One man should not stand in the way of the will of the people!”

March 26, 2014

By Meghan Maury, Policy Counsel

ImmigrationrallyThis morning I stood on the steps of the Capitol building with House Democrats and movement activists to #DemandAVote on HR 15, the House immigration reform bill.

Representative Steven Horsford explained that Democrats have the votes to pass immigration reform in the House.  In addition to the Democrats who support the bill, about 30 Republicans have stated that they are in favor of a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.  Horsford chastised Speaker Boehner for blocking a vote on the bill, and called for House Republicans to sign the discharge petition that would release H.R. 15 from the committee where it has been stalled for 272 days.

The discharge petition is a rarely used procedure in the House, and its mechanics may not be familiar to most of us. Basically, if a bill has been stalled in a committee for more than 30 days, House members can bring the bill to the floor for a vote if they get signatures from a majority of Representatives.  The House has a total of 435 members, 199 of which are Democrats.  Therefore, the discharge petition needs a minimum of 19 Republican signatories to reach the winning 218 signature mark.

If we can get this bill to the floor, House Democrats are confident they have the votes to finally get a victory on immigration reform.  The 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country -including the estimate 267,000 who identify as LGBT – need a path to citizenship.  It’s good for families, and it’s good for our economy: the Congressional Budget Office expects the bill to reduce the deficit by $200 billion in the first decade and by $900 billion in the second decade.

That’s why we need you to contact your Representatives and ask them to sign the discharge petition today.  We’ve waited long enough for immigration reform. Tell House Republicans: The time is now.  For more information about how the Task Force is working for immigration reform, check out these posts: Holiday Immigration Reform; Rea Carey Arrested Protesting for Immigration Reform; Senate Bill Considered.

To send a letter to your Representative urging them to #demandavote, go to: Leadership Conference #demandavote

 

Birth Control is Not My Boss’s Business

March 24, 2014

By Arielle P. Schwartz, Holley Law Fellow, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

1972338_10152291268179321_1016992866_nThe National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is committed to reproductive justice and your right to access birth control and comprehensive healthcare. We are rallying at the Supreme Court of the United States tomorrow to ensure that the message “birth control is not your boss’s business” is heard loud and clear.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius and decide whether for-profit corporations have a religious right to be exempt from the contraceptive-coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act. This question continues the coversation surrounding “corporate personhood” that Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decided in 2010 (learn more about corporate personhood and why Hobby Lobby’s owners want to have their corporate cake and eat it, too).

Corporations must not be allowed to deny birth control coverage to their employees based on their own personally held religious beliefs. This is the same slippery slope that Arizona served up a few weeks ago and the LGBT community should be standing at the forefront just like we did for Windsor. This is your paycheck and your healthcare, and private corporations have no business telling you otherwise. We at The Task Force recognize the intersectionality between the reproductive justice movement and the LGBT community—our bodies are not a battle ground for the world to vote on and we cannot allow people (or corporations) to decide how we live our lives.

We’ll be rallying with our progressive allies at the Supreme Court tomorrow and the Task Force will keep you updated right here on our blog.

Almost Everything You Need to Know About the Upcoming Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Case

March 13, 2014

By Arielle P. Schwartz, Holley Law Fellow, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

supreme_courtIf you thought the slippery slope surrounding the Arizona “Free Religion” bill was toxic to the LGBT community, the Judicial branch is now serving-up seconds, this time framed as the latest front line in the war on women. The Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments on March 25 to decide whether business owners are allowed to deny employees insurance coverage for needed medical procedures and treatments based solely on their personal beliefs. While the specific issue before the Court is about access to contraceptive care for women, this case carries with it a serious potential to have a sweeping domino effect on the LGBT community.

An adverse ruling could result in businesses being allowed to discriminate on the basis of their personal religious beliefs in a variety of areas, including health insurance access to things like birth control, emergency contraception, family planning, vaccines, surgeries, blood transfusions, mental health care, HIV/AIDS treatment, coverage of spouses and children and a whole host of other things.

In hearing Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Court will decide whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) allows private for-profit corporations to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives, to which employees are otherwise entitled by the contraceptive-coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.

How did corporations that sell arts and crafts supplies, books, doors, and cabinetry, make their way to the Supreme Court of the United States? Hobby Lobby challenged the essential health benefits mandate for employer-sponsored health insurance coverage found in the Affordable Care Act – the requirement that all businesses offer a basic health insurance package that includes the absolute minimum elements of a simple health plan (including contraceptive care) to the Supreme Court of the United States. Hobby Lobby feels (can a corporation feel?) that their religious beliefs would be violated by being required to provide basic health benefits to their employees.

The irony in all of this is that 28 states already required insurance companies who cover prescription drugs to provide coverage of the full range of FDA approved contraceptive drugs and devices. Before Obamacare brought attention to the fact that women should have access to basic health services, Hobby Lobby stores were already offering their employees coverage in those states before the mandate took effect.

So what exactly are both sides arguing? Hobby Lobby (the 2.28 billion dollar corporation) argues that for-profit corporations, not just individuals and religiously affiliated nonprofits, have religious beliefs that should be protected under RFRA.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and the federal government responded with the following arguments:

  1. Hobby Lobby will fail to state a claim under RFRA because RFRA does not grant free-exercise rights to for-profit corporations (ie. corporations are not people or religious entities).
  2. The owners of Hobby Lobby’s exercise of religion is not burdened by regulating their corporation and they are not entitled to relief that exempts them from federal law.
  3. Their religious exercise is not substantially burdened within the meaning of RFRA.
  4. Their claims would fail even if the contraceptive mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act were subject to RFRA’s compelling interest test.
  5. The contraceptive mandate provision advances compelling government interests by:
  • Protecting the rights of corporate employees in a comprehensive insurance system
  • Ensuring public health
  • Providing equal access for women to healthcare services

Essentially, what this boils down to is whether the Court will grant corporations the right to excuse themselves from any law because of a religious exemption claim and if so, what is the standard that will set the precedent?

The Task Force is participating in a massive rally outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 to ensure that our voice is heard in this significant decision and we are recruiting volunteers. If you (or someone that you know) are interested in being a marshal or in helping with set up and other early morning activities, please sign up. The role of volunteers at this rally is crucial. We expect to have an amazing line up of speakers at the People’s Mic event and scores of supporters at the Supreme Court.

The month of March should be a celebratory time—especially for women. March is women’s history month and March 2014 marks the third anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. To learn more about the upcoming cases and how they affect the LGBT community, stay tuned to the Task Force Blog and read the brief written by Lamda Legal.

Event Location
The Supreme Court
1 First St NE
Washington, DC 20543

On International Women’s Day, Five Activists Who Are Inspiring Change Around the World

March 8, 2014

In 1908, 15,000 women gathered to march through New York City, demanding shorter hours, better pay, and voting rights.  More than 100 years later, women across the world are still fighting for their rights, and inspiring change every day.

1544534_589283431155303_1399127217_nAt the National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change this year, we listened as thousands of those women talked about how they were making changing in their own communities.  All of their voices were inspiring, not just individually, but as a collective force.

International Women’s Day reminds us to think about the amazing work that women are doing to inspire change.  I want to share just a few stories of women that you might not have heard about.

Fernanda Milan, a Guatemalan transgender rights activist, fled her home country after being attacked by the police.  Having been granted asylum in Denmark, she continues her work for transgender rights.  In her words: “I have been a transgender person all my life. And I have been fighting against prejudice as long as I remember. I had to flee from Guatemala because I was fighting for human rights. Now I have the chance to live my life as a woman and an activist. Now I want to keep on the fight for a better world, where everybody can be educated, work, create families and live a dignifying life regardless of their gender identity.”

Nachale (Hua) Boonyapisomparn is a Thai transwoman activist.  She shared her thoughts on International Women’s Day with us: “I am a woman as I see myself a woman. My parents and everyone around me see me as a woman. I have also experienced what other women experience, sexism and socio-culture struggles, and have never given up to continue my womanhood. I, personally, have learned to define femaleness under the spectrum of being woman; a woman who does not define herself with her biological sex, but her gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, heritage, social class, and spirituality. The international World Women’s day is another day of my 365 days that keep reminding me with my journey of being a woman, a strong woman of color who love herself.”

Ruby Corado came to the U.S. from El Salvador when she was just 16.  She faced discrimination, harassment, and violence, but came to realize that her voice could help those members of her community that needed support most.  In 2012, she opened Casa Ruby, a community center that provides a wide variety of supportive services, primarily for the Latina trans community.

Amitava Sarkar is a transgender activist from Kolkata, India.  In the face of harassment from co-workers, neighbors, and family members, she thought about all of the other women in the world who were living in a morass of discrimination and asked herself, “What about them?”  She left her lucrative job and started a project with SAATHII, called Santi Seva, which focuses on meeting trans women’s needs in Bhadrak district.  The project is now viewed as a model that SAATHII wants to reproduce in other districts.

LeighAnn van der Merwe was introduced to trans activism by a friend in 2007.  Today, she works with a number of NGOs dealing with gender and women’s health, and holds a seat on the UN steering committee for transgender people in the Global South.  She told us, “International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the existence and bodies of women of color globally.  Even those bodies pushed to the margins, even those bodies that are not typically celebrated.  Violence affects LBT women of color in disproportionate ways and we need to call our governments and policymakers on that.  The time for action is now.”

Bisexual Health Awareness Month Draws Attention to Community’s Urgent Health Needs

March 5, 2014

Guest Post by Ellyn Ruthstrom

  • Forty-five percent of bisexual women have considered or attempted suicide, followed by bisexual men (35%), lesbians (30%), gay men (25%), and much lower rates for heterosexual women and men.
  • Bisexual women are twice as likely to have an eating disorder than lesbians.
  • Bisexual women report the highest rates of alcohol use, heavy drinking, and alcohol-related problems when compared to heterosexual and lesbian women.
  • Bisexual men and women report the highest rates of smoking of all orientations.

These are startling statistics that up until a few years ago we weren’t aware of because bisexual data was not being separated out from the lesbian and gay data. Now we have the numbers to show that the bi community has severe physical and mental health disparities that are in urgent need of being addressed.

To help raise awareness about these and other health issues, the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC) has designated March as Bisexual* Health Awareness Month. Entitled “Bi the Way, Our Health Matters Too!,” it is the first social media event of its kind to raise widespread awareness specifically about bisexual health disparities using Facebook and Twitter.

BHM-Phrase3

The Bisexual Health Awareness campaign will focus on the following bisexual health issues throughout the month of March:

  • March 3-7 Mental Health & Biphobia: This week will highlight important statistics about mental health disparities in the bisexual community, including the high rates of suicidality, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. Plus, how biphobia is linked to these dramatic numbers.
  • March 10-14 Safer Sex & Sexual Health: The focus this week will be on the need for bi-sensitive information about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), how sexual health education can be bi-inclusive, and safer sex practices and resources.
  • March 17-21 Nutrition & Physical Activity: This week we’ll point out cardiovascular-related disparities in the bisexual community, including higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and encourage ways to improve health through nutrition and exercise.
  • March 24-28 Intimate Partner Violence & Sexual Violence: The final week of the campaign will draw attention to the high rates of rape, physical violence, and stalking experienced by bisexuals via an intimate partner.

health disparitiesBisexuals have often been misunderstood, marginalized, and discriminated against in both heterosexual and LGBT spaces. Despite actively working within the LGBT equality movement for decades, bisexuals are often erased and considered a small subgroup of the community. Yet, the Williams Institute has found that approximately half of self-identified LGBT Americans identify as bisexual. This reluctance to address the needs of a large part of the community, and sometimes overt biphobia, has resulted in many bisexuals feeling alienated and alone, which contributes to a high incidence of depression, substance abuse, suicide, and other high-stress indicators.

The BRC will be posting and tweeting all month-long and we are encouraging other bi-specific and LGBT organizations to share and retweet to keep the information circulating throughout the community. We want to both raise awareness about these very serious health issues in the bi community and also foster connections between individuals and organizations that will help us work on these issues. Our community is suffering and we can no longer afford to be the invisible majority of the LGBT community.

You can follow the month-long campaign on the Bisexual Resource Center’s Facebook page and follow BRC’s Twitter feed (@BRC_Central) and the hashtag #bihealthmonth.

The Bisexual Resource Center (BRC) has been advocating for bisexual visibility and raising awareness about bisexuality throughout the LGBT and straight communities since 1985. The Bisexual Resource Center envisions a world where love is celebrated, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. Visit http://www.biresource.net.

* The BRC uses bisexual as an umbrella term for people who recognize and honor their potential for sexual and emotional attraction to more than one gender (pansexual, fluid, omnisexual, queer, and all other free-identifiers). We celebrate and affirm the diversity of identity and expression regardless of labels.

Governor Brewer Vetoes SB 1062

February 26, 2014

BREWERVETOES“We thank Governor Brewer for her decision to veto this outrageous measure — a law that if enacted would be bad for Arizona people and the Arizona economy. In doing so, she has stopped a bill that both cynically uses religion as a smokescreen to justify discrimination and insults people of faith who feel that discrimination is morally wrong. This decision sends a clear message that extremism is totally unacceptable to people of all political persuasions.

Rea Carey, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund

 

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