Supreme Court Challenge to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Denied, and What it Means

June 9, 2009

You may have heard the news yesterday that the Supreme Court has turned down a challenge to the U.S. military’s troubling Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. This excellent Washington Post article analyzes the possible politics behind the move. While the article hints that President Obama may eventually replace the policy with a policy that would be more fair to our LGBT military personnel, that change now seems farther away than we’d like it to be.

Here are some talking points worth sharing, should you find yourself in a debate about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell:

* A July 2008 poll by The Washington Post/ABC News found that 75 percent of Americans favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military – up from just 44 percent in 1993.
* The poll found 64 percent of Republicans in favor of repeal. A 2006 Zogby poll found that 73 percent of military personnel are comfortable with lesbians and gays.
* The military has discharged almost 800 mission-critical troops — and at least 59 Arabic and nine Farsi linguists — under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the last five years.
* Most allied forces working alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq allow individuals to serve openly regardless of sexual orientation. Studies of the militaries of Australia, Israel, Great Britain and Canada have shown open service to have no effect on enrollment or retention.
* The total number of countries allowing openly gay service is 26. The US and Turkey are the only two original NATO countries that still have bans in place.

In this critical moment in history, with the United States engaged in two wars, it’s imperative for the military to have the best and brightest personnel available. Sexual orientation shouldn’t figure into the equation, and yet our military maintains an antiquated set of standards to “deal with a problem” that a growing majority of military members don’t see as a problem.

We believe that LGBT military members should be allowed to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being discharged. There’s currently proposed legislation — the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (MREA), proposed by Rep. Ellen Tauscher of California, and co-sponsored nearly 150 fellow members of Congress. We encourage you to write to your Representative, and Senators, as well as to President Obama, to urge passage of the MREA and a much-needed resolution to the inadequacy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

To echo the plea that Second Lieutenant Sandy Tsao, a member of our military who was dishonorably discharged after coming out to her superiors as gay, made to President Obama, “help us to win the war against prejudice so that future generations will continue to work together and fight for our freedoms regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation.”


Gay Marriage On Hold in New Hampshire

May 21, 2009

The latest news on same-sex marriage legalization in New Hampshire is disheartening — but as one supporter put it, merely a push of the pause button rather than the rewind button. As this news account details, a new version of the same-sex marriage bill — forwarded to satisfy concerns from Gov. John Lynch over protection for churches — failed by the slimmest of margins, 188-186. So while there’s hope that the House will reconvene on the issue and eventually deliver a bill that Lynch will sign into law, the issue is on hold for now.

Here, once again, is information on how to reach Gov. Lynch, to remind him of how many of us are invested in New Hampshire doing the right thing. And, since the decision is largely in the hands of the House, here’s how to reach out to Rep. Terie Norelli, the current New Hampshire Speaker of the House.

Let’s show them how many straight and LGBT alike want equality for all!

Anti-Bullying Bill Clears Committee, Headed to Texas House

April 21, 2009

Good news from our friends at Equality Texas, who we partnered with on the recent Lobby Day event at the Texas State Capitol.

One of the bills designed to help defend LGBT youth in Texas, HB 1323, has cleared committee and could be debated on the Texas House floor as early as this week.   According to Equality Texas’s fact sheet on the bill, it would:

  • “add reporting standards for incidents of bullying in Texas public schools.   Specifically, school districts would be required to provide reports detailing the number, rate, and type of incidents of bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination against students.
  • require districts to adopt model policies on bullying and harassment.
  • provide for confidentiality, parental notification, transfer of the bully rather than the victim.
  • define and proscribe ‘cyberbullying’ and off campus conduct that affects the educational environment.”

The recent, horrific account of an 11-year-old who recently committed suicide after enduring bullying, including daily taunts about being gay is sadly one of a growing number of examples of how adversely bullying can affect our kids.  The bill not only seeks better and more comprehensive protections against bullying, but it also defines cyberbullying, which past state legislation against bullying doesn’t even address because of its relative newness.

Equality Texas suggests this sample letter in support of HB 1323:  Sample Letter

To find your representative, this page can help.

If you’re in Texas, please write today to help the bill get passed this session.

Update on Gay Marriage in Vermont (and now New Hampshire)

March 30, 2009

The legislative action around gay marriage in Vermont — and now in New Hampshire — is getting more and more interesting by the day.

In Vermont, it looks as if both the state’s House and Senate will pass a bill affording LGBT individuals the right to marry, but Gov. Jim Douglas has said he may veto the bill if it crosses his desk without the 2/3 majority necessary to override a veto. As a result, he’s been getting a lot of letters and e-mails in the last few days expressing concern over the possible veto, here’s how to add your voice to the growing chorus.

In New Hampshire, the State House narrowly passed a similar bill several days ago, and the Senate will now take up the bill. As in Vermont, there’s concern among LGBT equality supporters that the state’s governor will veto the bill should it pass. Here’s how to contact him in case you want to let him know about your support for gay marriage rights.

Despite the encouraging developments in New England, there’s still a lot of work to be done in many different parts of the country to forward LGBT rights — especially where churches and faith communities are concerned. If you haven’t yet visited the new Sundays of Solidarity website, please take a moment to do so. This is an exciting new project we’re doing in conjunction with our friends at Soulforce, and it’s a chance to make a difference on a community level by engage non-affirming faith communities in honest and open discussions. While not every state is on the cusp of adopting momentum-changing legislation, conversations like the one we’re asking you to have are what will help bring every state to more reasonable positions on LGBT issues. Please help us spread the word, and please join us for our initial training session on Sunday, April 19 as we prepare to engage in these necessary conversations.

Video Update from Lobby Day

March 10, 2009

Here’s some video from last week — this is former Soulforce Media Director Paige Schilt with Atticus Circle member Stephanie Molnar, talking about their experience talking to Texas state legislators during last week’s Lobby Day event. The Equality Texas event, which involved a number of Atticus Circle members, involved nearly 500 Texans who talked face-to-face with legislators about their support for a series of bills seeking to give LGBT individuals, couples, and families in Texas equal rights.

Here are Paige and Stephanie talking about their experience:

Media Coverage of Lobby Day

March 3, 2009

Yesterday’s Lobby Day at the Texas State Capitol was amazing — 500 Texans came together to talk to legislators about five bills they’re currently considering, which would give LGBT individuals, couples, and families in Texas some of the rights and protections they deserve. Over the next few days, we’ll talk about the experiences of various Atticus Circle members. We wanted to start with Fox 7’s coverage of the yesterday’s events, which includes footage of some of the participants being trained, and an interview of Atticus Circle founder Anne Wynne, who is also an Equality Texas board member.

Helping Bring Competitive Insurance Benefits to Texas Universities

February 23, 2009

This past weekend, we were invited to participate in a conference at the University of Texas working toward competitive insurance benefits for employees of all university systems in Texas. Right now, employees can secure insurance benefits for spouses but not for domestic partners, and an UT @ Austin based organization called Pride and Equity Faculty Staff Association is working to change that.

Our panel, on legal issues surrounding this push for competitive insurance benefits, included Texas State Representative Elliott Naishtat, who is one of our strongest allies in the Legislature for LGBT rights and the author of HB 816; and Randall Terrell of Equality Texas, who we’re partnering with on our upcoming Lobby Day on March 2.

The conference received attention from Austin media — this story appeared in the Daily Texan (the student paper at the University of Texas), this story aired on KUT-FM (Austin’s NPR station), and this story aired on KTBC-TV (Austin’s FOX affiliate).

It was an honor to be part of this conference, and Atticus Circle is proud to be working with organizations like PEFSA toward securing competitive insurance benefits for University of Texas System and Texas A&M employees.