Tuesday, April 20, 2010

News Sweep

Two LGBT-related cases currently face the Supreme Court: On Monday, the justices considered the rights of a Christian student group to bar gay members from leadership positions. Next week, the court will hear arguments about whether the names of people who signed a petition to place an anti-gay-rights measure on the ballot in Washington State should be kept secret.

The New York Times sheds light on difficulties same-sex families often face when visiting their loved ones in the hospital.

The Times' City Room blog is taking questions from readers about transgender issues to be answered by the doctor-editor of “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves,” a resource guide for transgender people, which will be published in 2011.

Supporters of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are asking Obama for a re-commitment to ending the policy and charging that administration officials have been discouraging Congressional action behind the scenes.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Let's Get Cracking on GENDA

The current issue of Gay City News has an excellent column on the need to pass GENDA in the Senate:

Let's Get Cracking on GENDA
by Paul Schindler

New York’s transgender community is holding a promissory note from the state government in Albany that is well past due.

In 2000, when New York State passed the first statute offering protections to the LGBT community — in that case, from bias-related hate crimes — its provisions only covered gay men and lesbians, not transgender and other gender-variant individuals. Even though many leaders in our community lamented that oversight, two-and-a-half years later, the Legislature, in finally adopting a nondiscrimination law, again left out language regarding gender identity and expression.

For more than seven years since the gay rights law passed, Democratic leaders in New York have promised action on the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA). That time is at hand — the State Senate cannot in good conscience adjourn in June unless it has passed the measure approved twice by the Assembly and supported strongly by Governor David A. Paterson.

A year ago, Senator Thomas K. Duane, the out gay Chelsea Democrat who is the measure’s lead sponsor, voiced confidence that he could muster the votes to enact the legislation before the 2009 Legislature finished up business. With Democrats holding a narrow 32-30 majority in the Senate, it was an article of faith that the measure’s margin of victory would be bipartisan, since several in the majority party, most prominently the anti-gay Pentecostal minister Ruben Diaz of the Bronx, have voiced opposition.

Duane’s hopes were dashed when a coup by two dissident Democrats temporarily deprived the party of its majority and threw the Senate into stalemate for what effectively turned out to be months.

Since that time, our community has endured the unfortunate defeat of the civil marriage equality bill by a 38-24 margin. Significantly, in the context of GENDA’s prospects this spring, none of the “yes” votes came from Republicans. The tradition of LGBT rights initiatives relying on at least some measure of cooperation between the two parties was fractured.

Diaz, flush from his success in beating back gay marriage, has not changed his tune on GENDA, so we will need to rebuild Republican support for moving our community’s agenda forward. Assuming that comity between the two parties does not continue to suffer from last year’s chaotic and ill-tempered squabbling over the Senate’s control, that goal should be achievable.

Whether or not they are willing to publicly commit to the legislation right this minute, some State Senate Republicans have at points during the past several years signaled to constituents who have met with them that they are prepared to vote for passage. Advocates from around the state have heard positive feedback from Kenneth LaValle, John J. Flanagan, and Charles Fuschillo on Long Island, James Alesi from Rochester, and Betty Little from the Saratoga area. Roy McDonald, who now holds the seat vacated when one-time Majority Leader Joe Bruno left the Senate, voted for the legislation as a member of the Assembly.

That’s a group of at least half-a-dozen Republicans who ought to be key targets in the next two months.

There is, of course, work to be done on the Democratic side as well, efforts that might be aided by the desire by some on that side of the aisle to make amends for their “no” vote on marriage equality in December. Joe Addabbo, the freshman senator from Queens, was widely denounced for throwing the community over after accepting significant LGBT money and volunteer time in his 2008 election. Tellingly, he recently signed on as a GENDA co-sponsor.

That example ought to be hammered home to Bill Stachowski, the Buffalo Democrat who voted “no” on marriage, barely won reelection in 2008, and faces several serious opponents in his party’s September primary. In New York City, a full-court press should be put on Brooklyn’s Carl Kruger, who now has an announced primary challenger, and Queens’ Shirley Huntley.

Action on GENDA is unlikely before the end of May. The measure is currently bottled up in the Investigations and Government Operations Committee, where Diaz has kept chairman Craig Johnson, a GENDA supporter, from winning a majority vote from among the five Democrats and three Republicans who serve there.

At the end of May, however, as the Legislature moves into its final month of session, Senate rules allow a sponsor to push for a bill to go to the floor without a committee vote, a strategy Duane is widely expected to employ. Before then, on May 11, the Empire State Pride Agenda is leading a GENDA lobby day targeting a segment of senators viewed as either on the fence or just mildly leaning one way or the other.

Presumably the half-dozen Republicans who have made favorable noise in the past and the Democratic trio from Queens, Brooklyn, and Buffalo will be prime among the ESPA visits that day.

When LGBT money poured into Democratic coffers in 2008, allowing the party to regain the Senate majority after 40 years in the wilderness, the promise was that things would be different for us. So far, on marriage, school bullying, and GENDA, they have not been.

Let’s get this done.

Friday, April 16, 2010

How Obama's hospital visitation memo affects same-sex couples in New York

Below is a message from Ross Levi, the Pride Agenda's Director of Public Policy & Education:

Today, President Obama took a very important step to protect LGBT families nationwide when he issued a memorandum directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to ensure that hospitals participating in Medicaid and Medicare allow visitation privileges for the same-sex partners of patients. This action will not only make a tangible difference in the lives of LGBT people, but it will also help humanize us in the eyes of people all over the nation when they consider how they would feel if they were kept from the bedside of a loved one who had been rushed to the hospital after some medical emergency.

Fortunately for us here in New York, we have already had this protection in our state since 2004, when Governor Pataki signed into law the bill from Assemblymember Deborah Glick and then-Senator Nicholas Spano to ensure visitation for domestic partners on the same basis as spouses in New York’s hospitals and nursing homes. Even at that time, the issue was relatively uncontroversial—the bill passed unanimously in the Senate and with only one dissenting vote in the Assembly. Polling showed 85% of New Yorkers thought extending hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners was an important thing to do.

But the President’s action will still have an important affect on New Yorkers in terms of how we are treated when we travel to other states. Now if we are vacationing in a state like Florida, we shouldn't be treated like the same-sex couple there who, despite having a health care proxy, were denied even visitation when one of them was rushed to the hospital.

The hospital visitation issue also shows how the work done in the states by organizations like the Empire State Pride Agenda not only helps the people living here, but also has an impact on the national level. The President specifically mentioned how the progress in states on this issue made it easier for him and the federal government to do the same on a national level. If a state like North Carolina can pass a fair hospital visitation policy for LGBT people—as it did last year under the leadership of our sister statewide LGBT advocacy organization, Equality North Carolina—shouldn’t the federal government make sure that there is stability and predictability for these families wherever they go? We at the Pride Agenda take tremendous pride that our work in New York helps build a national consensus and action around LGBT equality and justice issues outside our borders.

President Obama has done a great service to LGBT families and the nation by highlighting the inequities that same-sex couples face around real life and death issues. It should also strengthen our resolve here in New York to continue working toward full equality for our families, including the ability of same-sex couples to legally marry and have access to the literally 1,324 rights and responsibilities that New York State bestows on couples with their marriage license.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

News Sweep

The New York Attorney General's Office has unveiled a new website that tracks data on hate crimes reported in the state and provides resources and educational materials.

One of the rainbow flags that hangs outside of NYC's LGBT Community Center was found burned yesterday. Executive Director Glennda Testone said, "Hate and intolerance against LGBT New Yorkers will not be accepted, and we as a community must stand strong and together in the face of these hateful incidents."

A Brooklyn man who is fighting multiple assault charges in a 2009 altercation and faces deportation to Mexico says he was defending himself from an anti-gay attack.

A suspect has been charged in the strangling death of Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar, a transgender Queens woman. Police have not yet discovered a motive in the murder.

Constance McMillen, the lesbian teenager from Mississippi who challenged her school district’s ban of same-sex prom dates, has been named a grand marshal of New York City's annual pride parade.

It's not too late to fill out your Census! Gay City News explains why doing so is so important.

A group that supported putting a repeal of Prop. 8 on this year's ballot (in opposition to the majority who supported waiting) will now move toward supporting efforts to repeal the ban in 2012.

With a vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act expected later this month, openly gay Rep. Barney Frank says the most effective way to make a difference is to contact members of Congress directly.

Sen. John McCain isn't willing to speak with gay troops to get a more complete picture of military life under the current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. "Why should I? That would be nuts,"he said.

The Vatican is trying to quell growing anger over remarks by the Pope's top aide that the "problem'' behind the pedophile priest scandals is homosexuality and not to the church's celibacy requirement for clergy.