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March 20, 2009


UPDATE 3/24/09...
365gay.com reported this morning that the Vermont Senate just passed the same-sex marriage bill by a vote of 26-4. This overwhelming majority vote means that the bill will now move to the House where it is also expected to pass.

Unfortunately, Republican Governor James Douglas has already chastised the legislature for spending time on the bill when it should be focused on the economy. He said that he believes the civil union law is sufficient for same-sex couples - even though that's been proven not to be the case. In fact, as I outlined in my first article, testimony by mental health experts, social workers and clergy have all agreed that allowing gay couples to marry validates their relationships, could reduce discrimination and increases benefits for the families.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope since Governor Douglas has not said outright that he intends to veto this bill. Hopefully, the strong legislative support it has received and the publicity it has garnered will prove to be enough for him to change his mind and sign it.

I'll keep you posted.


Last Friday I reported on the Gay Marriage bill being debated in Vermont's Senate Judiciary Committee.

I ended my report on a very hopeful note. I believed that the strong testimonies of mental health experts and clergy, who all countered the religious right's argument that same-sex marriage is detrimental to children by exposing their lies and distortions of facts, would help get the bill out of committee and passed by the full senate.

Well, my hopes were not only realized but surpassed. This morning Queers United and Pink News (out of the U.K.) both reported that the bill was passed unanimously by a reassuring vote of 5-0.

The full senate is scheduled to vote on the bill next Monday, March 23rd at 3:00pm.

QU is requesting that since this is the last opportunity to express your support, please - even if you have done so in the past - call and/or email your state senator and urge him or her to vote in favor of this bill.

If you live in Vermont, you can get the email address and phone number of your representative by going to: http://www.vtfreetomarry.org/senate.html.

As I reported last Friday, in 2000 Vermont became the first state to pass civil unions. Now, if passed (which I fully expect to happen), Vermont will join Massachusetts and Connecticut and become the third state to legally recognize gay marriages.

March 19, 2009


Remember towards the end of last year when the Bush administration pushed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to finalize regulations that would make it possible for doctors, hospitals, nurses, pharmacist and virtually all other health care workers and institutions to refuse treatment and/or services for any patient or procedure they deem "morally objectionable?"

Well, they did. And what that meant was that you could be denied medical care and services for no other reason than your sexuality. That, in itself, is what I would consider one of the most morally bankrupt actions that a so-called "professional" could possibly perpetrate on any human being.

Now, according to a posting at Queers United, the Obama administration is considering whether or not to rescind those regulations.

Granted, this is something that should be a "no brainer." But politics being what it is, HHS needs our help to do this. They have issued a “proposed rule” that would rescind these bizarre and inhumane regulations but in order for this to be finalized, they have to allow for public comments. The public has through April 9th to respond.

Now, you can bet that the right wing, religious zealots and all their blind little minions will flood the HHS with objections. In order to combat their efforts, QU has suggested the following:

We are encouraging HRC members and supporters to tell HHS that a patient’s access to health care services should not depend on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The public can submit their comments to HHS through April 9 by emailing proposedrescission@hhs.gov

TAKE ACTION: Cut and paste the text of the letter below into an MS Word document (.doc) and email it as an attachment to proposedrescission@hhs.gov.

Here is a sample letter:

March, 2009

Office of Public Health and Science
Department of Health and Human Services
Attention: Rescission Proposal Comments
Hubert H. Humphrey Building
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Room 716G
Washington, DC 20201

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) with regard to rescission of the “Provider Conscience Regulation.” I support the right of all people to access health services without discrimination. Because these regulations could interfere with access to health care and promote discrimination against the very patients that federal funds are meant to serve, I urge the Department of Health and Human Services to rescind these regulations in their entirety.

I am concerned these regulations could limit the LGBT community’s access to services. The regulations state that the existing religious refusal clause allows a health care provider to refuse to assist in the performance of any service with which they have a religious or moral objection. Creating such a blanket right to refuse could severely impair the LGBT community’s ability to obtain health services.

Furthermore, the regulations do not require that patients are informed of their treatment options. Under the regulations, a doctor may refuse to administer an HIV test to a patient because he is gay. In fact, the doctor could not only refuse this service, but decline to tell the patient where he would be able to obtain testing. Clearly, this puts the health of the patient, and potentially that of others, at risk. The regulations allow counselors to refuse to counsel same-sex couples or a pharmacist to refuse to fill a prescription for hormone replacement therapy for a transgender customer.

The regulations clarify that any entity that receives HHS funding must allow this exemption. The regulations cover hundreds of hospitals, universities and public health programs serving millions of citizens across the fifty states. As a result, they preempt state and local anti-discrimination laws. They also preempt individual employer policies protecting against non-discrimination. Consequently, patients could not be guaranteed access to health care.

Protecting the free exercise of one’s personal religious beliefs is an important public policy goal. However, no American should face discrimination in the healthcare system simply because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. Because these regulations tip the balance away from patients’ access to health services, I urge HHS to rescind the regulations in their entirety.


For those of you who live here in Arizona, you probably already know that the state legislature has passed legislation out of committee (House Bill 2564) and even though it is couched in terms of abortion it's language will, in effect, to do the same thing here. They've made these attempts in the past but when their bills reached Governor Napolitano's desk, they were vetoed. Unfortunately, her successor, former Secretary of State Jan Brewer is a staunch republican and is expected to sign.

That's why we need to make a strong statement to the HHS that this kind of legislation, in any form is absolutely unacceptable.

March 18, 2009


When 14 year old student Chris Quintanilla decided to wear a rainbow wristband that said "RAINBOWS ARE GAY" to school, he had no idea of the controversy his action would cause.

According to a letter the ACLU wrote to District Superintendent, Dr. Denton Santarelli, on the first day Chris wore the wristband (Monday, February 23rd of this year), David Savorinic, Principle of the Parkridge Elementary School in Peoria, AZ went up to him in the school yard and asked to take a closer look at it. At that point, Principle Savorinic didn't take any action and Chris wore the band for several more days without incident.

But on Wednesday, February 23rd, principle Savorinic called Chris's mother, Natali Quintanilla, and demanded that Chris stop wearing the wristband or wear it inside out so the words wouldn't be visible. When Natali asked why, Savorinic said that some of the teachers found it offensive and therefore it "caused a disruption." Savorinic went on to say that what Chris was doing was "putting his sexuality out there."

According to a report yesterday by Gay News Blog, Savorinic demonstrated his homophobia with almost the exact same words earlier in the school year. When Natali reported that her son was being harassed because he was gay, Savorini told her "If he didn't put it out there the way he does, he wouldn't have much of a problem."

Natali said of her son:

"My son is honest and happy about who he is, and I love him and support his right to be himself. There are a lot of things teachers should be more concerned about than one little wristband – like educating our children."

What a great mom! It's encouraging to know that there are parents who are willing to put themselves "out there" to support and protect their gay children.

Based on the many Supreme Court cases that consistently supported student's freedom of speech over the last four decades, I have no doubt that Peoria will lose their absurd fight against this courageous mother and son.

The ACLU letter to the Superintendent ended with:

"It is our hope that the district will allow Chris and other students to wear or otherwise display messages or symbols expressing their support of GLBT rights. Please confirm that this is the case within ten days of receipt of this letter. It is in the interest of all to resolve this on an informal basis without resort to formal proceedings.

Kudos and love to Natali and Chris Quintanilla. And to the never-ending vigilance of the ACLU.

March 17, 2009


Yesterday I reported on the contested same-sex partner benefits for employees of California's court of appeals. There are, in fact, two California cases (as cited in the New York Times Article) that challenge the inequity of spousal benefits provided to employees.

The two cases involve Karen Golinski, 46, a lawyer who works for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Brad D. Levenson, 49, a lawyer who works for the federal public defender in Los Angeles. Citing the 1996 Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal Office of Personnel Management issued instructions that would deny those benefits even though two judges of the federal appeals court in California said that employees of their court were entitled to receive them.

There is also a third case that raised similar issues in a lawsuit filed against the federal government last week in Boston by eight same-sex couples.

Given that the newly appointed head of the Federal Personnel Office is openly gay M. John Berry, I seriously doubt that he wanted his department to issue those instructions. Especially since he, along with President Obama, has already endorsed the idea of providing health benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. These cases now provide a tool with which DOMA can be challenged. BUT THEY NEED OUR SUPPORT. The religious right is already launching a campaign to prevent changing or overturning DOMA and you can bet that part of their strategy will use massive email campaigns.

Today, working with the Courage Campaign, Cleve Jones, founder of the AIDS Memorial Quilt and historical consultant for the film "MILK", sent out an email asking us to sign a letter to President Obama urging him to keep his promise and "...allow the federal government to provide the same health benefits to same-sex spouses and partners of federal employees that other federal employee spouses receive."

I wholeheartedly support this effort and have already signed the letter. Since this is now a "game" of influence by numbers, I urge everyone who cares about equality and justice to sign as well.

TO READ AND SIGN THE LETTER TO OBAMA, GO TO: http://www.couragecampaign.org/page/s/keepyourpromise

March 16, 2009


Gays rights legal issues are beginning to bubble-up to the top of public agendas much faster than I'm sure the Obama administration would have liked.

In at least two cases fermenting within the Justice Department, the President is being pushed into a position that he either stands behind his many promises to the GLBT community of equal rights, protections and treatment or he doesn't.

One case involves health benefits for same-sex partners in the California court system. The other involves the discharge of a 18 year Air Force veteran who is being forcibly discharged just two years before her retirement under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy because she was "discovered" to be a lesbian. In both cases, the Obama administration (via the Justice Department) will be forced to take a stand.

A New York Times article said of the California case:

In separate, strongly worded orders, two judges of the federal appeals court in California said that employees of their court were entitled to health benefits for their same-sex partners under the program that insures millions of federal workers.

But the federal Office of Personnel Management has instructed insurers not to provide the benefits ordered by the judges, citing a 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act.

Now, Mr. Obama is in a tough spot. If he supports the personnel office on denying benefits to the San Francisco court employees, he risks agitating liberal groups that helped him win election. If he supports the judges and challenges the marriage act, he risks alienating Republicans with whom he is seeking to work on economic, health care and numerous other matters.

In the DADT case, Major Margaret Witt took the podium in front of the nation's capitol at a rally to repeal DADT and said:

“For 18 years I served in the military, before the Air Force discharged me because they found out I was a lesbian. But I don’t want to leave, and I’m challenging the government’s attempt to discharge me.”

This case is a little more complicated because the ninth circuit appelate court's decision narrowly focused on Maj. Witt's case specifically and doesn't necessarily challenge DADT directly.

As The Advocate reported:

When her [Maj. Witt] attempt to fight the dismissal was denied a hearing by a federal judge, her lawyers appealed the decision and the ninth circuit ultimately ruled that Witt had a right to her day in court. The decision concluded that, although the government had previously been able to discharge any LGB person under the policy, new protections provided by the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling now required the government to actually prove that an individual’s presence was indeed harming unit cohesion. The ruling was also carefully constructed to only apply to Major Witt’s case.

The court did not rule on the constitutionality of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ but it said because of a new precedent, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ has a higher burden to meet in order for an individual to be kicked out.”

C. Dixon Osburn, CEO of Osburn Management Consulting Company and former executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that advocates for repeal of the policy, said:

"...the movement has always argued that the government had no evidence demonstrating that letting LGBs serve openly in the military would hurt unit morale or military preparedness.

We have tried for the last 15 years to get the government to defend themselves and the courts have just looked the other way. This case is saying, ‘No, we won’t turn a blind eye to this, you need to give us evidence that the law is sensible on a case-by-case basis.’”

The narrowness of this case's decision may allow the DOJ to let the ruling stand, without any action by them, which would send the case back to the lower court to be argued. This would give the Obama administration a little more time to finish what they already started doing - working with the Pentagon to figure out the best way to end DADT.

Although I currently support Obama's approach, I, of course, also support Maj Witt's right not to be discharged for nothing more than simply being gay.

On a personal note, the Times' logic about Obama's risk of "...alienating Republicans with whom he is seeking to work on economic, health care and numerous other matters" should he side with the California federal appeals court seems extraordinarily childish and naive for such a prestigious publication.

In case the article's author, Robert Pear, hadn't noticed, the Republicans have made it their party's policy to disagree with and belligerently fight every proposal the President has introduced to turn the country's immediate financial crisis and long-term solvency around. Even going as far as standing silently by when their self-proclaimed, de facto "leader," Rush Limbaugh, publicly and proudly proclaimed that he "hoped Obama would fail" which, in effect, is saying that he hopes the country fails. I don't think you can get much more alienated than that!

Apparently, in the minds of Republicans, having the country continue to experience poverty, mayhem and misery for a few more years would give them a better chance to regain power in 2010. How sick is that?