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What California’s Death Penalty Court Decision Means to Me

July 17, 2014
Task Force organizer Malcolm Shanks in 2012 training UCLA students on talking to voters about the death penalty.

Task Force organizer Malcolm Shanks in 2012 training UCLA students on talking to voters about the death penalty

Yesterday’s federal court decision on the death penalty was victory in the fight for universal human rights. U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled that the California death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. And this is indeed the truth. Since 1977 California has sentenced over 900 people to die; however, more of those inmates have died in the limbo of death row than have actually been executed. California has 22% of the death row inmates in the United States, over 700 people. All 700 are victims of a broken system in the most heavily incarcerated society in the world. Race, gender, class and sexual orientation are also factors in the likelihood of receiving the death penalty. Specifically speaking, Black & Latino working-class people and queer women are disproportionately represented in death row populations, which makes it clear why it’s so important for LGBT and civil rights organizations to work together on this issue. This system is broken, and it impacts people like me and my loved ones the most.

This court decision is particularly important to me, not simply because I personally oppose the death penalty, but also because I was especially lucky in 2012 to be able to work towards a California without the death penalty. That year, a broad coalition of organizations, which included the Task Force worked on a ballot measure to eliminate the death penalty in California. Through our work on the ground, I met many former death row inmates who were falsely accused of a crime. Listening to these heartbreaking stories of cruelty and injustice was a transformative experience that strengthened my conviction. And while we changed many hearts and minds on this issue, we were unable to successfully win in the ballot box. Yet I still believe it is well past time for our country eliminate the death penalty.

It is the Task Force’s commitment to doing intersectional work that placed me in a context where I could work for a change that is so important to the liberation of queer & trans people of color. It is my sincere hope that in the wake of this decision, Californians pressure the state Attorney General’s office not to appeal this decision. The state of California should not have the power to decide who lives and who dies. It is my dream that one day we can live in a world that educates and empowers people instead of setting them up for a lifetime in prison. I am sure that yesterday’s decision is a step in that direction.

by Malcolm Shanks, Organizer, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Discrimination and Transgender Mental Health: My Response to Aurora’s Story

July 15, 2014

Barbara SatinYesterday, as I heard the story of Aurora Adams, a trans woman dealing with the stresses of being who she really is in a world that ridicules and denigrates her at every turn, I gave thanks to Minnesota Public Radio for having the insight and courage to air this report and spread a glimmer more of attention on my community which is so misunderstood or ignored: Stress, discrimination makes LGBT community more vulnerable to health problems, suicide

Aurora shared with Minnesota Public Radio her struggles with years of depression and anxiety–including a suicide attempt–that continue to take a toll on her mental health. Aurora’s situation is not unique. I know too many trans women, trans men and gender non-conforming individuals – young and old – who can echo her story or relate experiences or treatments that are even worse. Of the over 6,450 transgender respondents to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 41% of respondents reported they had attempted suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population.

The difficulty with these individual tales of gender discrimination, distressing as they are, is that policy makers and rule setters demand data to back up their efforts to create change in the way trans people are treated.

Until the publication of “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey” by The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality in 2011, few statistics about the difficult, sometimes overwhelming, challenges faced by trans folk were available to help shape public understanding and policy.

Valuable as this resource is it needs to be supplemented by more research and studies on the variety of challenges that the trans community faces on a daily basis. Health and health care related issues would probably top the list of research priorities but social issues such as violence against trans persons; bullying, safe school environments; appropriateness of social services; employment opportunities and work site policies; needs of at-risk trans people of color – the litany of research opportunities is long – and unfilled.

As a trans woman turning 80, I am concerned about the lack of knowledge by health care professionals, social service agencies, senior care providers and faith communities around the aging needs of trans people (religious denominations are zealous gate keepers to a great number of the senior care facilities across the nation).

Many of the concerns we face are similar to those impacting the cisgender segment of the old population. But among our paramount concerns are our isolation and lack of support systems plus the fear of how, where and by whom we will be treated when we need the care of others.

Also, a majority of old trans people live in poverty – due in large part to the lack of employment opportunities and job security during our working days – thus our access to housing and health care is often limited or jeopardized.

Aurora’s story on Minnesota Public Radio was an important, valuable glimpse into the lives of trans people. But we need more than occasional glimpses, we need appropriate studies and research that will allow for good laws, public policies and rules that will lift the lives of trans people out of the shadows of misunderstanding and allow us to shine as the whole and vibrant people we are.

by Barbara Satin, Assistant Faith Work Director, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force

Your Right to Speak Is More Important Than My Right Not to Have Acid Thrown in My Face

July 2, 2014

buffer zone v1Women are getting killed. Since 1977, there have been 8 murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 181 arsons, and 100 acid attacks at reproductive health care clinics.

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

Denver Pride and Creating Change Denver 2015

June 30, 2014

WeDenver Pridelcome 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!

New Resource Helps Faith Communities Welcome and Affirm Bisexual Members

June 25, 2014
 Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities


Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities

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

Historic Actions for LGBTQ people at Presbyterian General Assembly

June 17, 2014
More Light Presbyterians

Supporters of More Light Presbyterians gather at the PC(USA) General Assembly in Detroit

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.

The General Assembly proceedings are live-streaming at http://oga.pcusa.org/section/ga/ga221/. And follow what’s happening on Twitter by searching the hashtag #love221.

 by Javen Swanson Interim Faith Work Director at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Creating Change 2015 Host Committee Meeting: Pride Edition!!

June 13, 2014

Image

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!

SAM_0473

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