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Narratives of Perseverance: Immigrant Heritage Month

June 30, 2015
Amy Lavine

Amy Lavine

In honor of Immigrant Heritage Month, and in an attempt to lift up the contributions of a wave of immigrants who came to the United States more than 120 years ago, I offer this brief look at my Jewish ancestors’ journey to this new land. Although I have never had the experience of being a stranger in a strange land, I marvel at the bravery and sense of adventure that my great grandparents must have had to have made such a potentially perilous, utterly mystifying voyage to this new world.

My paternal grandparents, about whom I know quite little, came to this country when they were toddlers from Lithuania and Romania, both from large families where my paternal great grandfather was a blacksmith. They were very poor when they came to this country and eventually settled in Webster, Massachusetts, where my grandfather, Philip Lavine, owned a shoe store. My father, Richard Lavine, who passed away in November at the age of 89, worked at the Federal Trade Commission, after which he worked in private practice as a corporate lawyer. More importantly, to him and to me, he was an accomplished musician, playing the saxophone and clarinet, and published two novels after he retired.

My maternal great grandparents came from a community outside Riga in Latvia, on one side, and a small town in Hungary on the other. In a sadly familiar effort to downgrade the accomplishments of immigrants in their mother country, my great grandfather, Edward Martinson, had been a merchant in Europe before he came over; in New York, at Ellis Island,  he was listed as a “clerk.”

My grandfather, Herman Martinson,  the youngest of 9 children all born in Riga, graduated from CCNY in 1911 and from Columbia University Physicians & Surgeons Medical School in 1916, interned at Mt. Sinai and then went into the Army as a Second Lieutenant. He was sent to England at the end of 1918 when the war was ending, and then to France and Germany with the Occupation Army. He married Sylvia Eichler on October 19, 1919. Tragically, after building a thriving career as a doctor in New York City, he died on the operating table during a routine surgery in 1934, when my mother was only 10 years old. My mother, Eileen Martinson Lavine, was a journalist, a woman business owner, editor and writer, who, since officially retiring, continues to write and edit for Moment Magazine and has an astoundingly active, vibrant life in Bethesda, Maryland. She will be 91 in December.

These details of lives well lived highlight the many and vast ways that we all make sense of our lives as existing at the intersections of identities, locations, heritages, occupations and the intangible idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. To my knowledge, none of my ancestors lived as lesbians, gay men, bisexuals or transgender individuals. But they did raise my parents to be exceptionally accepting, loving, inquisitive, intelligent people who cared deeply for their children; who supported, financially and emotionally, the causes I championed throughout my life; and who welcomed the stranger, the “other”, the outsider into their homes with open arms.

Every immigrant story is unique unto itself. And, every immigrant story has in common stories of adventures in new countries; perils unknown and known. Many of those stories include humiliations at being denied the dignity of their careers as entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers or other vocations in their mother countries only to be reduced to whatever jobs they could take when they arrive in the United States. This country is as rich and varied as it is because of these narratives of perseverance. There are countless tales of hard work rewarded and thwarted, of falling down and being picked up again by that community of friends and strangers who recognize in the particulars of each and every life a grand story of desire and hope, fear and anxiety, and of the human experience lived out loud: proud and strong. Let’s raise a glass to our immigrant ancestors, to the undocumented and heroic among us, who risk everything to better their lives and to envision a life for their children that embraces the intersections of all that we are!

by Amy Lavine, National LGBTQ Task Force Foundation Giving Manager

LGBTQ and Repro Advocates Unite For Reproductive Freedom

June 24, 2015

On Tuesday, June 23rd, National LGBTQ Task Force’s Rea Carey, joined leaders of NARAL Pro-Choice America and ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, along with Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and small business owner, Khalid Pitts of Cork Market for a press conference at local Cork Market. All banded together to speak out against the recent Congressional efforts to undermine the District’s new non -discrimination laws.

DC Reproductive Freedom Press Conference June 23

DC Reproductive Freedom Press Conference June 23

In December, the Washington, D.C. Council unanimously passed two non-discrimination laws—The Reproductive-Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act (RHNDAA) and the Human Rights Amendment Act (HRAA). These laws prevent discriminatory treatment of employees and students respectively. Even though they are not accountable to D.C. residents, certain anti-choice politicians in Congress have made repeated attempts to nullify the RHNDAA.

According to Congresswoman Norton, the funding bill that includes language that would weaken RHNDAA may be on the House floor as soon as next week. She and other D.C. community and business members are tirelessly working to ensure that the law remains intact and that DC’s important protections are not undermined by this latest political maneuver.

At the press event, National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey, delivered the following remarks:

It is an honor to stand here today alongside NARAL Pro-Choice America, the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Khalid Pitts of Cork Market. 

For decades LGBTQ advocates, women’s rights groups, civil rights leaders, and the business community have stood shoulder to shoulder in the work to eliminate discrimination and secure full freedom, justice, and equality for all, across the country and here in the District of Columbia.

And while reproductive rights and access to healthcare are human rights, there are still those who wonder: why should the reproductive rights movement be interested in freedom and equality for LGBTQ people? Why should the LGBTQ community be interested in reproductive rights?

There are several reasons: straight and LGBTQ people use birth control, need access to safe abortions and fertility treatments, and transgender people need access to a full range of health services to be their whole selves. In fact, young queer and bisexual women experience higher rates of unintended pregnancy than the overall population.

We also recognize that those who move these harmful laws, or try to block the District’s fair laws, have a world view that disavows both women’s empowered decisions about our bodies and lives, and LGBTQ people’s empowered decisions about how to build our own families.

Straight and LGBTQ people stand together in our need for reproductive rights and justice and our respective legal rights and destinies have long been intertwined through Supreme Court decisions going back over 40 years. The latest of which was last year’s Hobby Lobby ruling, which then served as the inspiration for Indiana’s recent blanket discrimination law — a law that was so broad in its original version that it could have been applied to everyone.

Much has changed since the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. The new political environment is one in which equality opponents—those attempting to deny access and roll back advances to reproductive health and basic rights to LGBTQ people—have used the decision as an inspiration to pass discriminatory laws using the guise of religious liberty.

Despite the continued attacks on reproductive rights and LGBTQ freedom, we continue standing together.

We wholeheartedly support laws designed to preserve employees’ reproductive freedoms and prohibit discrimination against LGBT students. We oppose any lawmakers’ attempts to roll back progress by using faith to foster discrimination.

Today, as we join a large and diverse coalition of groups and people committed to advancing basic rights for all, we send a message that is loud and clear to Congress: you can’t use faith as an excuse to force your prejudices on us; you can’t stand in the way of full freedom, justice, and equality for all; and you can’t stop progress – not hear in the District and not across the nation.


by Beckham Rivera, National LGBTQ Task Force Holley Law Fellow

Beckham Rivera

Beckham Rivera


Remembering Life-Long Activist Marcy Westerling

June 19, 2015

Back in the baddest of the bad old days, we who looked for wisdom, political strategy, and grace in the face of persistent right-wing attacks always had Marcy Westerling to lean on. It is with a heavy heart that we mourn the passing of Marcy Westerling—a dear friend, teacher, and colleague of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Marcy Westerling

Marcy Westerling

Marcy’s lifelong project to build community and political strength amongst people living in rural areas, first through the Columbia County Women’s Resource Center and later through the ROP and its Human Dignity network, became a national model, featured in training videos, magazine and journal articles, web sites, blogs, and radio broadcasts.

In 1992, Marcy founded the Rural Organizing Project (ROP) and worked with the National LGBTQ Task Force staff from the Fight the Right Project to defeat numerous ballot initiatives that would have harmed LGBTQ people in Oregon.

From her base at the ROP, Marcy organized a network of 52 rurally-based human dignity groups that campaigned against Oregon’s 1992 ballot measure 9, resisting in small towns a dangerously divisive and homophobic proposal. Ballot measure 9, an ugly, slanderous, and vicious anti-LGBTQ proposed constitutional amendment, sought to prohibit uses of public funding “to promote, encourage or facilitate homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism. All levels of government, including public education systems, must assist in setting a standard for Oregon’s youth which recognizes that these behaviors are abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse and they are to be discouraged and avoided.” Oregon voters defeated the measure by a 12% margin.

In 1993, Marcy contributed two articles to the National LGBTQ Task Force’s publication for the Fight the Right Action Kit, “An Anecdotal Study in Rural Organizing” and “Breaking the Isolation: Keeping Leadership Vibrant.”

Marcy brought curiosity, compassion and deep kindness to the on-the-ground work of resisting right-wing incursions and refuting right-wing slander against LGBTQ people and our families. Marcy passed on June 10 in Portland, Oregon. May she rest in power knowing that her legacy of organizing with muscle, verve, and much heart lives on in all whom she trained, taught and mentored.

A deeply self-reflective person, her final project is a personal blog, Livingly Dying: Notes & Essays on Daily Life With Terminal Cancer. To learn more about this remarkable colleague in our movement, visit her blog here:
By Sue Hyde, National LGBTQ Task Force’s Director of The National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change


Faith Leaders and Dept. of Health & Human Services Explore LGBT Health Resources

June 16, 2015

On May 20, the Department of Health and Human Services(HHS) convened a group of national LGBTQ faith leaders to discuss how HHS can bring our LGBTQ community into the work they do with faith congregations around health concerns. This event was part of an ongoing effort by the Obama Administration to respond to the oft-neglected needs of the LGBTQ community.

LGBT Faith Leaders Table, sponsored by HHS’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Initiatives

LGBT Faith Leaders Table, sponsored by HHS’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Initiatives

The LGBT Faith Leaders Table, sponsored by HHS’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Initiatives, featured a mixture of religious leaders. The majority of faith leaders were Christian, however, much discussion was had about making future events more diverse.

There were faith leaders present from denominational groups that were welcoming to LGBTQ folks, as well as representatives from organizations that had faith as a major component of their work. The National LGBTQ Task Force was represented by both our Faith Work Director Rodney McKenzie and our Assistant Faith Work Director Barbara Satin.

HHS reported that it is in the process of developing resources aimed at helping leaders of faith gatherings – churches, synagogues, mosques, assemblies, etc. – to address significant health concerns that may be directly impacting members of their faith settings. Faith leaders, in their roles as counselors to individuals or as teachers to the broader faith community, have an important role to play in addressing these issues, including any stress and trauma their members may be experiencing.

HHS staff presented the idea of creating specific LGBTQ related health resources as part of this project. Since the focus of the conversation and the make-up of the Faith Table were leaders from welcoming faith settings, some of the participants countered with a suggestion to start with topics that affect everyone in a faith community – straight or LGBTQ – and write the resource in a way that normalizes rather than stigmatizes the LGBTQ aspects of the issue. Ultimately, welcoming faith communities – and their leaders – need to see everyone as “one” rather than parts of their community, such as LGBTQ people, as “other”.

A suggested example was the issue of bullying, which has a significant health consequence across a wide variety of identities. It would be beneficial to develop a resource that could address not only bullying that affects LGBTQ youth, but also the impacts of bullying on an overweight child, a person with a disability and/or a youth who expresses gender in a non-conforming way.

Aging was another example. People, straight or queer, will all grow old; some elements of aging are the same no matter your sexual orientation or gender identity. However, there are unique health concerns LGBTQ people have that need to be understood in a way that normalizes those concerns rather than presenting them as stigmatizing.

Barbara Satin

Barbara Satin

The group agreed that the work that HHS has started holds potential for helping shape a positive response to these issues. As a next step, group members and HHS staff agreed to collaborate in crafting documents that will resonate with faith leaders of welcoming communities. I look forward to continue being a part of this important work, and am thankful that the Obama Administration for its commitment to LGBTQ people.

Barbara Satin, Assistant Faith Work Director, National LGBTQ Task Force

Marriage at Supreme Court

June 15, 2015

My sophomore year in college, I took constitutional law. The final project was a moot court argument of a fictional marriage equality case from Ohio. I was thrilled that I got to “be” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg! The class’s fictional Supreme Court held that the Ohio marriage ban violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The momentum of the marriage equality movement has been so rapid that only five years later, my classroom hypothetical is almost identical to the question that’s currently before the real U.S. Supreme Court. On April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, which consolidated all Sixth Circuit marriage cases. Obergefell and his partner of twenty years, who was dying of ALS, flew to Maryland from Ohio to have their marriage legally recognized. Advocates at the Supreme Court argued not only that all states must perform same-sex marriages but that all states must recognize the marriages of same-sex partners performed in other states that currently have marriage equality. A decision on whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to perform and recognize same-sex marriages is expected at the end of this month.

Rea Carey at Supreme Court, April 28 2015

National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey at Supreme Court, April 28 2015

The fast-approaching decision is certainly exciting. While opponents of marriage equality, like Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, fear that nationwide marriage equality would “literally cause the destruction of our country,” the stories of the plaintiffs from Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee are far from destructive. They are couples and families who want dignity, humanity, and equality as spouses and as parents.

But it is crucial to remember that even the broadest Supreme Court ruling on marriage is not the panacea for the struggles many LGBTQ people face. It will do nothing to address the realities that LGBTQ youth are still subjected to harmful conversion therapy practices and rejected by their families; that 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ; that transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, are disproportionately likely to be victims of violence, including at the hands of law enforcement; that 40% percent of transgender prisoners report sexual violence while incarcerated (and that’s only the percentage who feel safe enough to report it); and, that LGBTQ people can still lose their jobs or their housing in many states simply for being themselves.

The Obergefell decision will also do nothing to address that some LGBTQ people may choose not to get married or may be harmed financially from marriage. Low-income people, regardless of sexual orientation, may lose necessary government assistance, such as food stamps, Section 8 housing, and Earned Income Tax Credits and Child Tax Credits by living together or by marrying. These systems must be reformed to allow every family to access the benefits they need. Furthermore, many members of the LGBTQ community may choose not to marry for political or personal reasons. The Supreme Court is also unlikely to address the abundance of ways LGBTQ people parent and the ways we form loving, supportive families.

Francesca Rebecca Acocella, Holley Law Fellow

Francesca Rebecca Acocella, Holley Law Fellow

I came out as gay the semester I took that constitutional law class, and reading those decisions helped me discover that the community I craved existed. I realized that these issues are not merely school assignments – they are real life issues facing members of my community and that I wanted to play a role for myself and for other members of my community who need an advocate. Embracing the diversity of our community means embracing everyone, including those who wish to marry and those who do not. Now, it’s in the Supreme Court’s hands whether everyone can have the personal autonomy to choose whether to get married. Let’s hope it will reach the same conclusion my class’s mock Supreme Court reached.

by Francesca Rebecca Acocella, Holley Law Fellow, National LGBTQ Task Force

Racial Disparity Is Racial Discrimination

June 12, 2015

When talking about issues like affirmative action, voting rights, and housing discrimination, we often hear commentators say that racism is a thing of the past. After all, they point out, don’t we live in a post-racial society because we have a black president?

Those arguments don’t hold up in the lived experience of most people of color in this country. We know that people of color face significantly higher levels of poverty and violence than white people, and are significantly more likely to be arrested, convicted, and sent to jail or prison for engaging in the same behaviors as do the members of the white community. People of color are significantly more likely to be exposed to hazardous waste because of where they live and are less likely to have access to grocery stores that sell healthy food. From 1991 to 2011, there was actually an increase in the number of black students that attended schools where more than 90% of the students were students of color. And children of color are also more likely to attend low-performing schools than white children.

This summer, the Supreme Court will release their decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Community Project, Inc. As usual, conservative commentators have raised the specter of the “post-racial” society in their analysis of how the Supreme Court should rule on a case that addresses racial segregation in housing. We thought it might be interesting to take a look at how “post-racial” some of our cities really are. Of course, these are just a few examples, but we saw similar segregation in communities across the country.

Examining several maps generated using Census Data, we can get a clear picture of what this racial segregation looks like.

In Detroit, the East 8 Mile Road provides a clear division between white and black neighborhoods:

Detroit Map 2010 Census

Detroit Map 2010 Census

St. Louis is one of many urban cities with deep racial segregation:

St. Louis 2010 Census

St. Louis 2010 Census

In fact, one map of Boston highlights the changes in racially segregated communities before and after Obama:


Boston in 2000 and Boston in 2010 (Census Data)

Don’t see much of a difference? Me neither. Chicago also shows little change before and after Obama:

Chicago in 2000 and Chicago in 2010 (Census Data)

Chicago in 2000 and Chicago in 2010 (Census Data)

These maps, which illustrate the segregation that still exists in our society, plainly demonstrate one way in which our country has failed to give fair and equal opportunities to groups of people in certain communities. According to The National Fair Housing Alliance 2015 Trends Report, where you live is important because it may dictate whether you have clean air, access to medical service and good education, and different job options.

In 1968, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act (FHA) with the goal of addressing the harmful impacts that residential segregation had on individuals and communities. The FHA prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion and, subsequently, sex, familial status, and disability, and promotes creation of diverse communities with equal opportunities. For years, it has been debated whether, under the FHA, a policy or practice may be considered discriminatory if it has a disproportionate “adverse impact” against a group of people on the bases listed above, a concept known as disparate impact. This month, the Supreme Court will decide whether disparate impact claims are cognizable under the FHA.

In Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Community Project, Inc., the Inclusive Community Project (ICP), an organization that seeks to eliminate barriers to racial and socioeconomic integration in housing, sought to stop the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) from disproportionately administering tax credits. ICP asserted that TDHCA disproportionately approved tax credits for low-income developments in predominately minority neighborhoods and disproportionately denies them for predominately white neighborhoods. In other words, ICP argues that TDHCA keeps low-income housing in predominately black and brown neighborhoods and out of white ones.

During oral arguments in January, Justice Antonin Scalia ignored the racism and discrimination on which this country has been built and claimed, “Racial disparity is not racial discrimination.” We must understand these issues in the context of our history. Studies on the existence and effects of “implicit bias” indicate that even people who may not intentionally discriminate on the basis of race may harbor implicit racial biases, which are activated involuntarily. These biases develop over time and are created by exposure to direct and indirect messages we receive from our culture. Research from Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity suggest implicit biases are pervasive and robust and have real world effects on behaviors. No one is exempt from having implicit bias. They affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.

Because of these implicit biases, it would undermine Congress’s goal of addressing the impacts of residential segregation if the Supreme Court rules against the Inclusive Community Project, Inc. The decision would mean that victims of discriminatory effects in housing could only find relief if the other side acted with discriminatory intent. Few housing providers discriminate in a way that we can prove is intentionally discriminatory. But implicit biases will continue to maintain a racially-segregated country unless we allow for disparate impact analysis to integrate communities and neighborhoods.

We hope that the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Inclusive Community Project, Inc. If we lose the ability to claim disparate impact under the FHA, residential segregation will continue to negatively affect the quality of life for everyone in our country, and especially for people of color.

By Taissa Morimoto, Legal Fellow, National LGBTQ Task Force



Abercrombie Religious Freedom Ruling a Victory for Social Justice Movements

June 11, 2015

On June 1, the Supreme Court championed two values at the core of our social justice work — religious freedom and workplace non-discrimination protections. In EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, a Muslim woman was denied employment at the retail clothing store because her headscarf violated the store’s policy against “caps” and other headwear. Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia held that “if the applicant actually requires an accommodation of [her] religious practice, and the employer’s desire to avoid the prospective accommodation is a motivating factor in his decision, the employer violates [Title VII’s prohibition against intentional discrimination]”. In other words, an employer cannot avoid granting religious accommodations by simply not hiring someone it suspects would need the accommodation.

Samantha Elauf, plaintiff (Photo: Reuters/Jim Bourg)

Samantha Elauf, plaintiff in EEOC v Abercrombie & Fitch (Photo: Reuters/Jim Bourg)

By highlighting the core purpose of religious freedom – to protect people against discrimination – this decision affirms the values of the LGBTQ community. Upholding workplace protection for religious minorities reinforces the importance of similar protections for queer, trans, and gender non-conforming employees.

In particular, the Court’s clarification of the mens rea requirement for Title VII Intentional Discrimination claims bodes especially well for LGBTQ employees. The court held that an “unsubstantiated suspicion” of one’s religious affiliation is sufficient to constitute an improper motive in violation of the statute. Actual knowledge of a person’s religious affiliation is not necessary for a claim. Applying this to the LGBTQ context, prospective employees would not need to “out” themselves in order to state a claim for discrimination in hiring. Refusing to hire someone due to a mere suspicion of his or her queer, trans, or gender non-conforming status violates Title VII.

The Abercrombie decision is a form of religious freedom that should be celebrated. Laws that support a right to express one’s religious identity safeguards religious liberty by protecting people against discrimination. Employees can “be themselves” so long as their religious identity and practices do not unduly burden their employer.

This genre of religious freedom, however, stands in stark contrast to other kinds of religious accommodations, wherein people use their religious beliefs to exclude others from a good, service, or right. The magistrate opt-out provision (SB2) that just passed in North Carolina, for example, allows magistrates with religious objections to refuse to perform same-sex marriages. It does not protect magistrates from discrimination, nor does it reflect a desire to express one’s religious identity. As Governor McCrory articulated before he vetoed the bill–and before his veto was overriden by the House–, magistrates are simply being asked to do their jobs.

Instead, the opt-out provision recently passed in North Carolina perpetuates discrimination against the LGBTQ community and potentially many others.

Social justice requires that we distinguish between two kinds of religious freedoms: those that protect people from discrimination and those that are harmful to others. Accommodations that prevent discrimination and allow people to express their religious identities are important victories in the fight for social justice. Those that subvert this intention and inflict harm on others are missteps on this path. Let us celebrate the Court for supporting the former.

by Courtney Miller,Holley Law Fellow, National LGBTQ Task Force and Beckham Rivera, Holley Law Fellow, National LGBTQ Task Force


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