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Want a Bigger Tax Refund? Five Things That Made Tax Filing Better for Many LGBT Families This Year, and Two Changes We’re Asking the IRS to Make for Next Year

April 15, 2014

The Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor rocked the tax-filing world of same-sex couples this year.  Here are the top five things that put more money in some of our pockets:

  1. Joint Filing for Married Couples!  We can’t express what a huge change this was for married same-sex couples.  After the IRS announced that they would accept joint returns from married same-sex couples, the tax team at the Task Force crunched some numbers.  Especially for single-earner and low-income couples, filing jointly on your federal tax return could mean thousands of extra dollars in your return.
  2. Tax-Free Health Insurance!  Before Windsor, if your employer offered health insurance benefits to you and your spouse, your insurance costs wouldn’t be taxed, but your spouse’s would be.  This year, folks who have been paying tax on those benefits will see a nice chunk of that tax refunded to them.
  3. Estate Tax Reduction!  What the heck is an estate tax?  Basically, before Windsor, if your spouse passed away, you might have to pay income tax on any money or property they left you in their will.  This year, the IRS treats married same-sex couples the same as married different-sex couples, so anything inherited from a spouse is tax-free.
  4. Fairer Access to the Earned Income Tax Credit!  Allowing married couples to file jointly means that some families that couldn’t claim the Earned Income Credit in the past now have access to it.  In 2012, the Earned Income Credit lifted about 6.5 million people out of poverty, including about 3.3 million children.
  5. Deductions for Retirement Savings!  The IRS allows most people who contribute to an IRA to claim a deduction for that contribution on their tax return, effectively making saving for retirement cheaper.  Married couples can basically take deductions for contributions made for a non-working spouse, making their tax return larger.  This year, same-sex couples have access to that retirement savings boost.

That sounds great!  Of course, filing jointly isn’t great for everyone.  For some couples, tax refunds get smaller instead of larger when you file jointly.  You should talk to your tax accountant to find out the right move for you.  The good news is, Windsor makes it a little bit easier for our community to be able to make the right decisions for our families and our wallets.

queerthetaxes-1000pxUnfortunately, there are still hundreds of thousands of LGBT families who don’t have access to these tax benefits, because their families aren’t recognized by their state or by the IRS.  That’s why we’re launching a campaign today to fight for TAXATION WITH LGBT REPRESENTATION.  We’re asking the IRS to let us do two things:

  • File as Families: We want the IRS to create a new filing status that recognizes all of our families, and allows them to accept joint tax returns from couples who aren’t legally married.  Access to credits and deductions shouldn’t depend on whether your State believes your family deserves recognition.
  • Claim our Kids:  Many of us can’t form legal relationships with our children because of discriminatory state legislation.  Because we lack legal status as a parent, we can’t claim our kids for certain credits and deductions.  That just isn’t fair.  We want the IRS to designate a new dependency category, called “Dependent for Tax Purposes,” so that we can claim our kids even if we live in a state that won’t let us adopt them.

Join Us Today as we ask the IRS to QUEER OUR TAXES.  Visit www.queerourtaxes.org to sign the petition, and we’ll send you a “Taxation With LGBT Representation” sticker that you can use to show your support!

Students Deserve Safe Schools

April 14, 2014

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

safeschoolsAs a member of the National Safe Schools Partnership, the Task Force joined 28 organizations for a month-long advocacy campaign last week to call on Congress to support the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) (S. 403/H.R. 1199) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) (S. 1088/H.R. 1652).

SSIA would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to require school districts in the U.S. that receive government funds to adopt codes of conduct to prohibit bullying and harassment. SSIA would also require that states report bullying and harassment incidents on school grounds to the Department of Education. In order to improve policies that protect schools and students, it is imperative to have accurate data.

SNDA would establish a comprehensive federal prohibition against discrimination and harassment based on a student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in public elementary and secondary schools across the country.

SSIA and SNDA will assist in creating a welcoming environment for all students and ensure that children are able to focus on education. Once enacted, these protections will help create a better educated, more productive population, able to contribute fully to the general welfare of our nation.

According to Representative Linda T. Sánchez’s office (CA-38), SSIA is at 193—bipartisan—cosponsors. SSIA needs only 25 more co-sponsors to ensure passage if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) allows it to come up for a vote. Join us by calling your congress member and asking them to support SSIA and SNDA, and tweeting #MakeSchoolsSafe and #EndBullying.

See the Task Force letter here and click here to learn how you can create safer schools for all students.

 

Hobby Lobby Recap: SCOTUS To Decide Who Can Claim Religious Exemptions

April 11, 2014

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

(You can learn more about our past analyses here and here.)

Task Force Deputy Executive Director Darlene Nipper at the Hobby Lobby rally in front of the Supreme Court.

Task Force Deputy Executive Director Darlene Nipper at the Hobby Lobby rally in front of the Supreme Court.

Now that the dust has started to settle and we await a decision from the Supreme Court on the Hobby Lobby case, we thought it would be a good time to dig a little deeper into the issues that arose during oral arguments and what some of the possibilities are when we hear a decision from the Supreme Court in June.

This case will decide the constitutionality of a fraction of the preventive services rule that mandates (among other things) health insurance coverage for all Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods. More importantly, the Justices will decide who is exempt from these laws and under what framework.

The arguments focused primarily on whether a secular and private for-profit corporation’s owner is substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act. The Government argues that Congress’s decision to provide exemptions was clear—churches, religious educational institutions, religious associations, and that’s it. Nobody else can claim an exemption under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and Title VII. Hobby Lobby argues RFRA should be interpreted in a way that persons include for-profit corporations.

Attorney Paul Clement, representing Hobby Lobby, did not get more than two sentences into his argument when Justice Sotomayor asked:

Is your claim limited to sensitive materials like contraceptives or does it include items like blood transfusions and vaccines? For some religions, products made of pork? Is any claim under your theory that has a religious basis, could an employer preclude the use of those items as well?

Clement responded that “the easiest way to distinguish them from contraception is if the government’s already provided this accommodation for religious employers.”

Justice Sotomayor continued, explaining that exemptions are made for vaccines, for example, on a different basis, but we have a tax code that applies to everybody with a “million exemptions.” “Does the creation of the exemption relieve me from paying taxes when I have a sincere religious belief that taxes are immoral?”

Attorney Clement argued that not all exemptions are created equal, rather some exemptions undermine the compelling interest factor. Essentially, Clement stated that contraception is already covered under Title X, providing for a least restrictive alternative to the contraceptive-coverage mandate under the ACA and at the end of the day, the government should pay for it themselves.

I thought Justice Kagan’s response was particularly noteworthy:

Mr. Clement’s understanding and interpretation of this law would essentially subject the entire U.S. Code to the highest test in constitutional law, to a compelling interest standard. So another employer comes in and that employer says, I have a religious objection to sex discrimination laws; and then another employer comes in, I have a religious objection to minimum wage laws; and then another, family leave; and then another, child labor laws.

This is the slippery slope that everyone is talking about. So how does a corporation exercise religion? Attorney Clement focuses on the “sincerity” of his clients religiously held beliefs irrespective of their commercial activity.

But the Supreme Court of the United States has never considered a for-profit corporation as having an ability to exercise religion. Furthermore, Hobby Lobby is not legally required to provide health insurance to their employees under the ACA—this is not a birth-control mandate. They have a choice: (1) Take advantage of the corporate healthcare tax benefit and provide employees comprehensive health insurance; or (2) Instead of providing health insurance, compensate employees by increasing wages and pay the government tax. By choosing the second option, the government will then supply insurance through various subsidies to people on the exchange that do not have employer insurance. Attorney Clement regards the second option as “punitive.”

Either way, the Justices will decide whether the religious beliefs of individuals trump the statutory rights of a corporations employees. Justice Ginsburg noted during oral arguments that there are twenty FDA approved contraceptives, all of them covered by the ACA. Hobby Lobby focused on four. Suppose the employer says contraceptives in general are against their religion. Is there a way to accommodate the interests of women who may want these particular devices without imposing a substantial burden on the employer who has the religious objection to it? Attorney Clement’s response— tell the insurance carrier to pay for it.

The final ask of the multi-billion dollar for-profit corporation? “Whatever the answer is for Little Sisters of the Poor, presumably [the Supreme Court of the United States] can extend the same thing to [Hobby Lobby] and there wouldn’t be a problem with that.” Respectfully, we disagree.

Little Sisters of the Poor is an international congregation of Roman Catholic religious women that exclusively employs people of the same religious tenets (and it has a legal right to do so). The guidelines covering contraception already do not apply to women who are beneficiaries in health plans sponsored by religious employers because those employers are exempt from the requirement under the federal guidelines. On the other hand, Hobby Lobby is not an actual religious organization. They are a private corporation that sells arts and crafts and they are asking the Supreme Court to allow any employer in the United States the right to make healthcare decisions for their employees by denying coverage of medical expenses based on personal religious beliefs. They want to claim that they are exempt from state and federal laws that ban discrimination by claiming that their religion allows them to (and therefore the law should, too).

Reading the transcript, you will quickly learn that this decision predominantly rests with the male Justices. Scalia, Alito, and Roberts are siding with Hobby Lobby. Although silent throughout oral arguments, because of their voting history, we can expect Thomas to decide for Hobby Lobby while Breyer stands united with women. Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor continuously poke holes in Clement’s argument, recognizing that the case has the potential to open the floodgates to litigation and a whole slew of discrimination.

And they are right. This decision risks having a sweeping domino effect onto low-income and LGBT communities (who disproportionately lack access to healthcare and are less likely to seek out medical treatment for fear of discrimination). By now you are well aware that on Tuesday, March 25th, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was in full force, rallying front and center at the Supreme Court of the United States to ensure the message “birth control is not my boss’s business” was heard loud and clear.

We can only hope the Justices heard us.

Task Force Applauds Implementation of New Violence Against Women Act LGBT Non-Discrimination Provisions

April 11, 2014

This week, the U.S. Department of Justice released “Frequently Asked Questions” about the new LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination provisions in the Violence Against Women Act. The Task Force was instrumental in getting these protections written in to law – the first federal law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Task Force then led a coalition of organizations to submit comprehensive recommendations to the Department of Justice on how to effectively implement the recommendations.

The 11-page FAQ document outlines the requirements for grantees under the law. In general, the FAQs are very strong and reflect many of the recommendations the Task Force and our coalition partners put forth last year. Some of the highlights are:

  • If a grantee receives any amount of funding from the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, all activities of that provider are covered by the non-discrimination mandate, including activities that aren’t related to or funded by the Department of Justice.
  • Sex-segregated and sex-specific programming is generally prohibited, unless the programming is “necessary to the essential operation of the program.” Even then, grantees must be able to justify why and how they think that the programming is essential.
  • In sex-segregated and sex-specific programming, grantees are required to recognize the self-identified gender of the victim/survivor. This means that transgender people will have equal access to a wide range of programs funded by the Department of Justice, and a transgender person can’t be turned away or treated differently just because another client complains.
  • If sex-segregated and sex-specific programming is offered, services that are comparable in terms of quality, duration, safety, amenities, and other factors.

Also of note, the FAQ identifies clear procedures for filing a complaint, and allowing third parties (like volunteer legal service providers, for example) to file complaints on behalf of a client that experienced discrimination.

Here is what our Executive Director, Rea Carey, had to say about the FAQs that came out this week:

We are thrilled that the Department of Justice has taken such a clear stance implementing the Violence Against Women Act’s LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections. For the first time in our history, the federal government is sending the message to programs it funds that tax dollars do not belong in the hands of those that discriminate against the LGBT community.  Working with the Department of Justice to flesh out these issues has been a pleasure, and we look forward to seeing the Office of Violence against Women issue federal regulations implementing the non-discrimination provisions later this year.

This is a huge step forward for the LGBT community. For the first time, we are seeing full and effective implementation of a federal law that explicitly bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and the implementation looks a lot like the recommendations the Task Force and our coalition partners sent to the Department of Justice last year.  We look forward to the next step in the process, which is federal regulations that impose these and other requirements with the full force and effect of federal law.

#StandWithMonica to end Profiling and Criminalization of Transgender Women of Color

April 11, 2014

By Kayley Whalen, Task Force Executive Office Board Liason

Monica-Poster-Graphic-sml-01-713x1024Monica Jones, an outspoken critic of the unjust profiling and criminalization of transgender women of color is facing trial today, April 11, in Phoenix, Arizona. As a longtime advocate with the Sex Workers Outreach Project(SWOP) Phoenix, Monica has helped raise awareness of the harms of the anti-prostitution police diversion program Project ROSE. In May 2013, while walking through her neighborhood on the way to a bar, she was arrested and charged with “manifesting prostitution” by an undercover police officer taking part in one of Project ROSE’s numerous police stings.

Activists around the world are showing their support for her by sharing her story using #StandWithMonica on social media. By standing together, we can demonstrate that Monica’s activism in Phoenix is part of a much larger struggle to release the suffocating grip of the criminal justice system on the transgender community, especially for trans women of color and those living in poverty.

I #StandWithMonica because I believe that a trans woman of color should have the right to feel safe walking down the street in her neighborhood. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 41% of Black respondents and 25% of Latino/a respondents had been arrested or held in a cell due to police profiling. Programs like Project ROSE only contribute further to police profiling and arresting people simply for “walking while trans.”

I #StandWithMonica because trans people should not be afraid to talk to the police. 47% of all respondents and to the The National Transgender Discrimination Survey reported experiencing discomfort seeking police assistance. If we cannot trust the police to protect us, who can we trust?

I #StandWithMonica because trans people deserve employment, good jobs and healthcare. Transgender people are 4 times more likely than the general population to live in poverty. They face pervasive job discrimination, harassment while at work, and incredibly high rates of unemployment. Many are forced to work in the underground economy simply to survive.

I #StandWithMonica because I know trans people need real job skills trainings so they can have the means to survive without relying on sex work. They do not need public shaming and threats of imprisonment. Public money should not go towards programs like Project ROSE. Instead, it should go towards empowerment programs for and by trans people, such as Casa Ruby in DC or Chicago House’s TransWorks program.

I #StandWithMonica because trans prisoners are assaulted every day. If found guilty, Monica Jones will be jailed in a men’s prison facility. Project ROSE insists they are saving trans women and making their lives safer. But instead they are putting them in harms way, into prisons where they will be routinely denied housing with people of their own gender. Where they will be assaulted, raped and denied healthcare.  Where they will be placed in solitary confinement “for their own protection,” much like how they were arrested “for their own protection.”

I #StandWithMonica because I am transgender, and I know that my community, including our allies, is stronger when we all stand together.

So please, tweet your support @theTaskForce with the #StandWithMonica hashtag, and join events around the country.

More information about Monica Jones and the Sex Workers Outreach Project – Phoenix Arizona Chapter can be found here: http://www.swopphoenix.org/monica/.

Funding Our Future

April 7, 2014

At Funding Our Future, 16 queer and trans people of color gathered in Maryland for a 3-day fundraising retreat to learn how to fully resource their queer and trans people of color organizations. Just during the retreat, the group raised $4,330 in funds for queer and trans justice work in communities of color.

The retreat was organized by the Task Force’s Naming Our Destiny program, which builds the power of queer and trans people of color organizations and networks.

photo 3 (2)

International Transgender Day of Visibility: Task Force Staffers Named to 2nd Annual Trans 100 List

March 31, 2014

TRANS_100X400Three National Gay and Lesbian Task Force staffers have been named to the prestigious Trans 100 list. They are Deputy Director of the Academy for Leadership and Action Moof Mayeda, Senior Organizer Trystan Reese, and outgoing Leadership Programs Manager Causten Rodriguez-Wollerman. The 2014 list, published on International Transgender Day of Visibility, features 100 trans and gender non-conforming people accomplishing positive work nationwide.

“This is an extraordinary honor for three extraordinary people,” said Rea Carey, Task Force Executive Director. “Causten, Moof and Trystan work tirelessly on behalf of the transgender community and the entire LGBT community across our nation. Each brings their whole lives to their work and are an inspiration to all of us who believe in real freedom and justice in a transformed society.”

The 2014 Trans 100 List is an overview of the breadth and diversity of work being done in, by, and for the transgender community across the United States.

To view the full list, visit www.TheTrans100.com or www.facebook.com/Trans100.

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