A new report on how lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) people interact with the criminal legal system, Unjust: How the Broken Criminal Justice System Fails LGBT People, by the Movement Advancement Project and the Center for American Progress, reveals the reality of the broken criminal justice system in the United States. The report shows how pervasive stigma and discrimination, discriminatory policing strategies, and discriminatory laws can target LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ people of color and LGBTQ people of low-income.
According to the report, discrimination and stigma is one of the main reasons why LGBTQ people of color and low-income might have a higher risk of ending up incarcerated. Discrimination and stigma in housing and employment may force many LGBTQ people into untenable situations. When people are pushed out of their homes because of their sexual orientation or fired unfairly because of who they are, they are at a higher risk at becoming homeless. Homelessness may leave many LGBTQ people vulnerable to encounters with law enforcement and ultimately, criminalization. For example, one in five (20%) transgender people in men’s prisons in California had been homeless just prior to their incarceration.
Also, discrimination and stigma towards people living with HIV is another way the criminal justice system targets the LGBTQ community. Nearly 2/3 of states maintain outdated HIV criminalization laws that criminalize the lives of people living with HIV. These laws punish the behaviors of people living with HIV, even if those behaviors carry no risk of transmission.
Robert Suttle from Louisiana saw his life destroyed after he was forced to accept a plea bargain and served six months of prison rather than risk 10-year prison sentenced for not disclosing his HIV-positive status to his boyfriend when they met. He also was forced to register as a sex-offender through 2024, and the words “sex offender” are printed in red capital letters underneath his picture on his driver’s license. Data from the William Institute found that individuals charged with HIV-related cases were convicted in 99% of the cases, and 91% of those convicted were sentenced to jail time in prisons. In some states, individuals convicted under these laws are forced to register as sex offenders. Just like Robert, there are many people in the LGBTQ community who are being targeted by these outdated criminalization laws that further limit employment and housing options, among other far-reaching ramifications.
Life after conviction can make it more difficult for LGBTQ people to re-enter society. The report exposes two primary challenges LGBTQ people face after conviction. There is a lack of support for LGBTQ people in probation parole and re-entry programs. When LGBTQ people need support finding housing or employment, they experience discrimination at a higher rate. Rarely do parole, probation, and re-entry programs take into consideration the discrimination LGBTQ people face in housing, employment, and many other areas of life. Also, having a criminal record can harm LGBTQ people‘s ability to support themselves and to be a part of their families and communities. In many ways, LGBTQ people continue to be punished after they have completed their sentence. Furthermore, because LGBTQ people already struggle with discrimination and stigma, a criminal record can create additional barriers for former inmates trying to rebuild their lives. For LGBTQ immigrants, regardless of immigration status, having a criminal record can easily lead to deportation.
The report provides high-level recommendations focused on reducing the number of people, particularly the number of LGBTQ people of color and low-income LGBTQ people, who come in contact with law enforcement. Some of the recommendations made include reducing abusive and excessive force by police; repealing, replacing and modernizing HIV criminalization laws; and creating a fair chance for people returning to their communities after incarceration. Because of the broken criminal justice system in the U.S., it is clear we still need to make sure judges, court staff, attorneys, and juries don’t discriminate LGBTQ people. Click here to read full report.
Stay up to date with the National LGBTQ Task Force’s criminal and economic justice work by following us on twitter at Twitter.com/TheTaskForce.
by Daniel Chevez, National LGBTQ Task Force Media Relations Fellow
On Monday April 18, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of United States v. Texas, a lawsuit that has placed of President Obama’s November executive actions on hold. This case has frozen the implementation of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
In 2012, Obama provided immigration relief to undocumented students through DACA. The program has been in place for four years and has provided work authorization and protection against deportation to roughly 665,000 people. Last November, the president attempted to provide temporary work permits and deferred deportation to approximately 3.7 million undocumented immigrants through DAPA. Unfortunately, Texas and 25 other states filled a lawsuit claiming that expanded DACA and DAPA violates federal laws and the Constitution. Due to this lawsuit, the implementation of DAPA has been blocked and millions of DAPA-eligible immigrants are not able to work legally and live without the fear of deportation.
Freezing DAPA also affects LGBTQ immigrants who may qualify for the program. Currently, there are at least 267,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender LGBTQ adult undocumented immigrants living in the United States. For many people, DAPA would mean more job security, greater access to social services, high wages, and bringing family separations to an end.
Immigrant rights are LGBTQ rights. That is why the National LGBTQ Task Force is joining immigrant advocates in calling on the Supreme Court to unfreeze DAPA. Please join us for a National Day of Action, Monday, April 18th, at 8:00 a.m. at the Supreme Court, 1 First Street NE, Washington, D.C. If you are unable to attend, please join local events or show your support online by changing your social media profile to include the solidarity ribbon available here:
To learn more about the case or coalition please visit: http://www.fightforfamilies.org
by Daniel Chevez, National LGBTQ Task Force Media Relations Fellow
Imagine standing in the sun with a view of the ocean in Miami Beach, surrounded by friendly people from all over the world and close friends from all walks of life, and dancing to a song about deflecting all the criticism and cruel words that we face daily. For a moment, invincibility seems possible and love seems endless. Every year thousands experience Winter Party Festival, a week-long celebration in Miami Beach that raises funds for South Florida LGBTQ organizations as well as the National LGBTQ Task Force. The festival programming includes night events, an art show, a VIP cocktail reception, movie screenings, and one infamous beach party located on the sands of South Beach.
The 2017 festival will mark my fourth as a volunteer for Winter Party. My motivations have evolved over that time, so finding just one reason for volunteering or even attending was difficult. As I started thinking about this post, I came across three themes for, “Why Winter Party?”
In Rea Carey’s speech during the National LGBTQ Task Force Gala – Miami (formerly the Miami Recognition Dinner) she said, “To be fully and freely you. Can you imagine what that’d look like?” Winter Party is that space for many, where attendees, volunteers, committee members, and everyone involved are free to be themselves without judgment. From Task Force staff walking around the Beach Party wearing bonnets to our allies greeted with hugs and smiles, Winter Party is the place to “be you.”
The stories attendees tell about their Winter Party experiences make the year of long volunteer hours and hard work all worth it. Throwback Thursday posts on Instagram captioned with, “Take me back,” paragraph-long Facebook posts about friends creating life-long memories, and personalized thank yous from attendees are indicative of the passion and love for Winter Party and the Task Force. I leave Winter Party every year with a smile and a feeling that we changed the world, or maybe just Miami Beach, even if only for a week.
Giving attendees a space to express themselves also means creating opportunities for friends to reunite and forge lifelong relationships; I can attest to that Winter Party promise, as it’s something I personally experience. I attended my first Winter Party in 2011 and there created deep, lasting friendships and bonded over the incredible experiences on and off the dance floor with some of my favorite people.
With over $2.1 million raised for South Florida LGBTQ organizations, Winter Party Festival is not just a party and series of social events. Funds raised benefit organizations that support homeless LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ counseling, and many important causes to our community.
Winter Party is also more than a fundraiser; it is an opportunity for education and advocacy. In 2016, organizations like Impulse – South Florida, AIDS United, and The Miami Collaborative MSM Workgroup created unique activities during the festival to deliver important messages to attendees and advocate for their causes. Impulse – South Florida set up HIV testing in one our VIP cabanas at the sold-out pool party, giving them access to educate and test thousands of guests.
The Task Force has created and maintained a special culture for the hundreds of people working on Winter Party unlike any organization I’ve been a part of. The passion for building the week-long celebration is contagious, and the support and care for the volunteers and employees is endless.
Perhaps it’s a cliché, but the work I do for Winter Party never feels like work. And what’s even better is that great people, who I’m proud to call friends, are part of this journey each year. Members of the marketing committee, unlike any other Winter Party committee, are located all over the U.S. in New York, North Carolina, Miami, San Francisco, Washington D.C., San Diego, and Los Angeles. Though not able to meet physically, they demonstrate their commitment to the organization through long hours, numerous meetings, and strategic thinking, leveraging their expertise to help elevate Winter Party year after year.
As Vice-Chair for the 2017 Winter Party Festival, I’m more excited than ever for the road ahead. Winter Party, like any entity, is ever evolving. Each and every volunteer will play a part in forming the next iteration and the one after. After a preview of the team for 2017, I feel confident in saying that it will be the best Winter Party year yet.
by Stephen Seo
I must admit: to be called to pastor in the African American Baptist community wasn’t an easy task. With the African American Baptist church being so far behind in their theology about women and women’s calling by God, I was almost discouraged from pursuing my God-given destiny in life. However, I refused to allow others to deny and deter what God had destined to be my future.
That’s why I attended United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, where I earned a Master of Divinity degree. After completing my seminary training I applied for many churches across the country and found that I received a lot letters with scriptures alluding to the fact that the pastor must be a man. Oh, what would God think about our churches today?
As a result of all the rejection letters and still having a call to lead God’s people, I opened a Baptist church and pastored that church for seven years. During my sixth year, I believed that soon my time at that church would come to a close and I again applied for other Baptist churches for the position of pastor. I had now completed my Doctor of Ministry degree and had more experience and knew that the call to pastor was still upon my life. I had a love and heart for God’s people and thus could not give up on the power of God to move God’s people, in spite of their sexism challenges. So I was blessed as a result of my persistence and belief in God to be called by an African American Baptist church in Detroit, Michigan to be their pastor. It was a great day!
God had done exactly what he said he would do. It was pastor and people together moving to change a community and to pour out all that God would give. During this time as senior pastor, I learned even more about people and how to meet people where they are on their journey as they crossed my path. I learned not to ever judge people, to love people and allow them to “be.” It was, what I believe, what drew many people to me as a pastor and caused them to follow my ministry, along with the great charismatic preaching and stirring prayers. As I encouraged others to be themselves, I evolved and needed to be myself also. I had many conversations with God and many sleepless nights wrestling with my own theology around being authentic. I was on such a fast track to the top in ministry until I wasn’t sure what to do. I was favored to preach in many churches across the city. I had preached on national stages. I had prayed on ecumenical stages alongside Archbishops in the Catholic denomination and presiding prelates of the Apostolic denomination.
Soon, I became the founder and presiding bishop of Pmeuma Christian Fellowship. I was asked to sit on a few other College of Bishops by some of the members of my own College of Bishops. I wrote two books and had sermons featured in other journals and books. My co-laborers in ministry referred to me as a “rising star” and celebrated me for being a young preacher who had a wonderful future ahead of them.
In my authenticity I met the woman I am married to today, Bishop Emeritus Williams, who is my best friend, who is my greatest love, and who has pushed and stretched me with my theology in so many ways. I am so glad and thankful that God brought her into my life. When I married her, I was still in the midst of an inner struggle about sharing with my church that I had met and married the woman who made me one of the happiest people on earth! I had shared my marriage with my children and some family members, but the church was my greatest challenge, because even though I had helped them progress on some things, they had not moved forward on their belief of the right for same-sex couples to marry. So when I shared with my deacons about my marriage and they asked me to share it with the church, I knew that for some it would be ok, but for others it would not. I knew they would come from an old legalistic point of view and feel that I should not be a pastor.
I eventually resigned from my position as pastor of that church and went into a space of hurt, pain, disgust, disappointment, and questioning what God was doing with me. If God had not removed the call on my life to pastor, which I did ask about several times after this experience, then why was I being ousted from being a pastor and being a bishop? Because the pastors that I had under me in Pneuma Christian Fellowship that I was working with were all heterosexual and as soon as it was revealed that I was a lesbian bishop, they no longer wanted to be under my leadership either. So what was God doing?
God had totally allowed everything that had happened in my ministry, the great things that had come my way, all of that to be dismantled, simply because I chose to live my life authentically and as an openly lesbian pastor and bishop. But thanks be to God, that God always has another plan. I knew that God did not remove the call from my life, I knew the Holy Spirit was still speaking to me and saying that my purpose and destiny was to still pastor God’s people and oversee God’s leaders as a Bishop. So with that knowing, I was determined to rise like a Phoenix and do what I do best – preach, pray, pastor, and oversee. And with that vision, with my wife’s support and encouragement, I found a space and place for my new church.
In opening the doors to the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral (ELC), the spirit of God called on me as bishop to empower the people in the LGBTQ community who are still believers in spite of what the religious attics have told them. The spirit of God said that as a bishop I am to liberate the people from all of the untruths and misinformation that has been taught and preached to them on their Christian journey. The spirit of God said that I am still a bishop. I was consecrated a bishop, I was laid hands on by senior bishops with power and authority to make another bishop, and was elevated to that episcopal level in the church, and I should never allow anyone to treat me any differently due to my sexuality or orientation, so my church is rightfully a Cathedral – the house of the bishop. So that is why my church, Empowerment Liberation Cathedral (ELC) has the name it does today and has the power and presence it does today.
On May 1, 2016, we will be celebrating two years of ministry in the LGBTQ community. We have been so blessed to arrive at this point on our journey. While on this journey we affiliated our church with MCC and AWAB. I am so thankful to have a loving wife who understood me and understands God’s call upon my life and doesn’t mind sharing me with the people of God. Surely she is God’s gift to me and a gift to the church. I am so glad to have the opportunity to continue to walk in my divine purpose and pastor the people of God who are members of ELC. And in the near future I will have the wonderful opportunity to oversee spiritual leaders that have reached out to me, to serve as their bishop and many more. God is faithful. I know that God’s cause in the LGBTQ community found me. My venue was changed, but my calling was not.
My denomination has changed but my passion for preaching has not. My openness about who I am has changed, but my anointing has not. My church name has changed, but my power to pray and get an answer has not. Surely I am walking in my destiny and doing what God created me to do. I thank God each day for the opportunity to serve and be a leader in this great community.
As I reflect upon the resurrection of Christ, we must always know that sometimes walking in your purpose will cause non-believers to kill you, but God will always raise you up. God has caused me to rise, just as Jesus did, from the grave that the people tried to hold me in. God has caused me to rise, just as Jesus did, from the placed called hell, that the unsupportive heterosexual pastors tried to keep me in. God has caused me to rise, just like Jesus did, from having my voice muted to a place of being a voice for the voiceless, a catalyst for liberation and an advocate for equality for all. As we embrace the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, let us reflect upon our own lives, deaths, and resurrections, and rise—just as Jesus did.
Bishop Allyson Nelson Abrams, Pastor & Founder of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, & Presiding Prelate of Pneuma Christian Fellowship. A religious stole was donated in honor of Bishop Abrams to the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Shower of Stoles, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary of telling the stories of LGBTQ people of faith. To learn more about the Shower of Stoles project and to see how you can bring part of the collection to your community, please visit: http://www.welcomingresources.org/sosp.htm. To experience the Online Exhibit, please visit: http://www.lgbtran.org/exhibits/stoles/
Today, as we celebrate Good Friday, I will be wearing my new cassock as I preach at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Boulder, Colorado. Thirteen years ago I would have laughed if anyone told me I would ever write that sentence and actually meant it. The Holy Spirit has a really quirky sense of humor.
In April of 2003, I was early in my gender transition when I walked into the sanctuary of St. Paul Lutheran Church. I was terrified that the people would just point and laugh at the man in a dress—but they didn’t. They asked me if I wanted coffee and invited me back. The people of St. Paul gave me a place to celebrate my faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. The first visit to St. Paul Lutheran Church would be the beginning of a new incredible journey of faith.
In my teens and early twenties, I was a devout Catholic. When I was 18, I began a conversation with one of the priests about Holy Orders, but my mother and grandmother insisted I not pursue that life, so I went to University of Colorado Boulder for my undergraduate degree. By the time I graduated from college, I turned away from the church. I rebelled against the patriarchy and hierarchy of the church, but I still believed in God. I was not sure what God was up to—so I decided God could do what God did without me for I thought God had abandoned me. I prayed and prayed for God to fix me. I had these feelings of not fitting in. I didn’t feel like a man, instead I felt like I was a woman and dressed as a woman as well. I begged God to rid me of those feelings, but to no avail. So if God hated me that much, I had no use for God.
I spent most of the 1980s wandering around Boulder as a lost child. I drank copious amounts of alcohol. By the end of the decade, I found myself praying to the “porcelain god” in detox. I couldn’t figure out what had gone so terribly wrong. I sobered up and threw away all my women’s clothes. Within four years, I had a job in retail management and married a beautiful woman. In 1996, I became a law enforcement officer for I was sure wearing a uniform and carrying a gun would make me a man. Unfortunately, the façade took a toll on my emotional well-being. I started drinking again.
After eight years of marriage, my wife decided she no longer wanted to be shackled to an angry and intoxicated man. I blamed her for all my despair, so I quickly agreed to the divorce. But it wasn’t long before I realized I walked away from a beautiful wife, a house, and a new car. Why in the world was I miserable enough to walk away from that life? At the same time, I wondered if I should point the gun under my chin or next to my temple, but I knew I couldn’t take my own life. I turned back to Jesus. I didn’t whimper a plea for help, I demanded help. I told God I came back into the fold, so to speak, God better step up and help. Within a few weeks, I was in therapy. Somehow I got the guts to tell my therapist I felt I was a woman. She suggested a support group and I went. I found people who had the same feelings I had. I told one of my new friends about my deal with God and I was searching for a new spiritual community. She told me about this open and welcoming community, I went to a service, and I was hooked.
As I prepared my Good Friday sermon, I had been reading and re-reading the 18th and 19th chapters of the Gospel of John and I realize my suffering doesn’t compare to the agony my Lord, Jesus Christ, endured, but I am comforted by the fact that Jesus can understand what is like to live on the margins of society and what it is like to be persecuted for being different. Jesus persevered and transcended the oppression. I know my Lord, Jesus Christ has been with me and guided me for it is a mystery how I was given the courage and strength to begin a journey toward ordination. Yes, early in my transition I found a new home in my Lutheran faith, but I had no idea I would ever become a seminary student and be allowed to wear a cassock.
As Christians–particularly LGBTQ Christians–all across the world prepare to celebrate Easter, I reflect on the Gospel of John and my eyes fill with tears when I read the stories of so many of my transgender siblings. So many suffer and die because they are not accepted as beautiful children of God. My heart aches for the pain so many have to endure for we have the ability to end suffering through love. Jesus died on the cross to end our pain. When Jesus walked out of the tomb, he showed us the power of love. Jesus died to destroy death and he gave us the power to show us how much he loves each and every one of us and we, in turn, must love and help each other.
Garcia created and donated a religious stole to the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Shower of Stoles, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary of telling the stories of LGBTQ people of faith. To learn more about the Shower of Stoles project and to see how you can bring part of the collection to your community, please visit http://www.welcomingresources.org/sosp.htm. To experience the Online Exhibit, please visit: http://www.lgbtran.org/exhibits/stoles/
Yesterday, the National LGBTQ Task Force joined thousands of reproductive justice advocates and allies, calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the latest attempt to control our health and sexuality. The case before the Court, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, challenges a Texas law that will close all but 10 abortion clinics in the entire state. This law and similar targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAPs) functionally ban the constitutional right to abortion by imposing expensive and medically unnecessary restrictions so burdensome they shut down safe and legal reproductive healthcare centers.
At the rally, doctors, immigrant rights’ advocates, college students, mothers, faith leaders, queer activists, and many others spoke about the positive impact that safe, compassionate, and legal abortion has had in their lives and warned that TRAPs do not end abortion, they end safe abortion. Some of the older activists, who have struggled to protect reproductive rights for decades, stressed that we cannot go back to the horrors of dangerous, back-alley abortions.
LGBTQ people especially cannot afford to ignore attempts to turn back the clock on reproductive rights. We already struggle to access vital health services and need access to a full range of health services, including abortion, to be our whole selves. Those who seek to restrict reproductive decisions are often the same people who fight against LGBTQ equality, which makes the fight for reproductive health, rights, and justice ever more important.
Opponents of equality continue to do everything they can to undermine our sexual health and freedom. Later this month, the Supreme Court will hear another set of oral arguments in the Zubik v. Burwell case, which asks the Court to preserve birth control coverage in the Affordable Care Act. Join us on March 23 as we call on the Court to once again stand on the side of reproductive justice and protect our fundamental right to sexual health and freedom and the right to decide whether or when to become a parent.
by Zsea Beaumonis, National LGBTQ Task Force, Reproductive Justice Fellow
On January 22, we commemorate the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that affirmed the right to abortion. Yet the promise of Roe v. Wade remains out of reach for millions of people, including LGBTQ people. From the reactionary wave of so-called “religious freedom” laws, to government defunding, to violent attacks on healthcare centers, opponents of equality continue do everything they can to undermine sexual health and freedom.
Many of us — cisgender women, transgender men, two spirit, intersex, and gender-non-conforming individuals, among others — can get pregnant, and rely on a full range of reproductive health options, including abortion care. LGBTQ people already struggle to access vital health services: We are under-insured compared with other demographics, we experience certain health challenges at higher rates, and we are outright denied care because of who we are. We can’t afford to ignore attempts to undo Roe and turn back the clock on reproductive rights.
The movements for LGBTQ equality and reproductive rights are inseparable: we are all working for the right to choose who and how we love and how we use our bodies—without government abuse and intrusion. Those who oppose comprehensive and affordable reproductive healthcare are often the same forces that want to control what we, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming, intersex, and queer people, do with our bodies and our access to healthcare.
Now more than ever, it is important that we build strong, inclusive coalitions to win progressive change. Join us during Roe anniversary week by following the hashtag #ReclaimRoe, telling your friends and family about why everyone should support reproductive rights, and if you’re at Creating Change, attending one of the reproductive justice sessions—because the fight for reproductive health, rights, and justice are an LGBTQ issue.
by Zsea Beaumonis, National LGBTQ Task Force Reproductive Justice Fellow