Wednesday, December 28, 2011

GLAD's Top 10 Victories of 2011

It’s been an exciting year fighting for equal justice under law for LGBT people in the New England states, and we’re grateful that we’ve got a lot to show for it. In the spirit of the umpteen other end-of-year lists, we bring you GLAD’s Top 10 Victories of 2011. They’re in no particular order, since we’re all about equality here.

10. DOJ says Defense of Marriage Act is indefensible – and more!

In response to Pedersen v. OPM, our Second Circuit DOMA challenge – and the ACLU’s Windsor v. United States DOMA challenge – the U.S. Department of Justice in February announced it would no longer defend the law in court, believing it to be unconstitutional. Even better, the cases called the question of the level of scrutiny that should apply to DOMA and President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder concluded that heightened scrutiny should apply. That means Congress, which assumed responsibility for defending DOMA, will have a significantly harder time proving that DOMA should not be struck down.

9. Maine’s anti-trans LD 1046 is resoundingly defeated

GLAD was part of a coalition that worked to defeat LD 10146, a bill that would have repealed non-discrimination protections for transgender Mainers in public accommodations. Transgender Rights Project Director Jennifer Levi served as the coalition’s expert witness at a public hearing in May (pictured up top). The Republican-controlled legislature killed the bill by a wide margin in June.

8. GLAD lawsuit produces new Denny’s bathroom policy for transgender patrons

In June, GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project and Realty Resources Hospitality, which operates six Denny’s restaurants throughout Maine, announced an agreement resolving a lawsuit brought by Brianna Freeman, a transgender woman who was denied access to the women’s restroom at a Denny’s in Auburn, Maine. Realty Resources Hospitality agreed that at all of the restaurants it operates, all transgender individuals, including Brianna, will have access to the restroom consistent with their stated gender identity.

7. Connecticut Supreme Court establishes legal parentage for non-genetic parents in surrogacy

In a first-of-its kind decision, Connecticut’s high court ruled in January that a gay male couple who used a gestational surrogate to have children are the children’s legal parents, and that the state must permit both men’s names to be placed on the birth certificates. GLAD submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys, Connecticut Fertility Associates, and New England Fertility Institute.

6. GLAD celebrates Connecticut’s new transgender non-discrimination law

In July, Gov. Dan Malloy singed HB 6599 into law, giving trans people the full protection of the state’s anti-discrimination laws. GLAD was part of the coalition that worked to pass the bill, presenting testimony, participating in the formation of strategy, and doing message development and training.

5. Executive Director Lee Swislow hikes the Appalachian Trail!

Okay, we know this isn’t a legal victory, but hiking 2,181 miles through 14 states (from Georgia to Maine) in all kinds of weather is no small thing -- just ask the folks who were left in charge here at GLAD during our fearless leader’s 7-month trek. Alas, we survived – and so did Lee. We’re glad to have her back (pun intended).

4. Blue Cross/Blue Shield decides to cover HPV Vaccine for males

In August, after GLAD’s AIDS Law Project Director Ben Klein urged Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts to make such a policy change, the health insurer decided it would cover the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for males. GLAD praised the health insurer for taking this step because gay men are at particular risk of contracting anal cancer through HPV infections.

3. Federal Bureau of Prisons makes major change in transgender medical policy

In September, a settlement was announced in the case of Vanessa Adams, a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmate at FMC Butner in North Carolina who has gender identity disorder (GID). Vanessa sued BOP in order to receive appropriate treatment for her GID and was represented by GLAD, Florida Institutional Legal Services (FILS), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Bingham McCutchen LLP, and Allyson Kurker. Under the settlement, BOP ended its so-called “freeze frame” policy in which treatment for any person with GID is kept frozen at the level provided at the time he or she entered the federal prison system. In Vanessa’s case, this meant that because she had not received treatment for GID before being incarcerated, BOP refused to provide her with medically necessary care even though its own doctors diagnosed her with GID, told her about treatments available for GID, and knew about the seriousness of her medical condition.

2. Ensuring New Hampshire’s anti-bullying law protects students

GLAD, along with co-counsel Neil Jacobs, MJ Edwards and Brian Boyle of WilmerHale recently represented a New Hampshire high school student who experienced an onslaught of anti-gay cyberbullying before the state Board of Education. After his school refused to address the bullying, the student and his father complained to the Board of Education but the hearing officer assigned to the case dismissed their complaint on the grounds that the board had no jurisdiction to hear their case. GLAD and co-counsel appealed the hearing officer’s decision to the full Board of Education, which agreed unanimously with GLAD’s position that the inability to pursue a case like would effectively render the anti-bullying law toothless.

1. Transgender protections passed in Massachusetts; important work remains

We end this list with a victory that reminds us that there is still much work to be done to secure full equality for LGBT people in New England: In November, Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law the Transgender Equal Rights Bill, which will provide essential non-discrimination protections for transgender people in employment, education, housing, and in situations where people face hate-based violence. GLAD was part of the coalition that worked to pass the bill. However, in passing the bill, the legislature removed critical protections for trans people in public accommodations, (i.e. restaurants, movie theaters, malls, and other public places).

GLAD and our coalition partners will not rest until transgender people in Massachusetts are fully protected under the Commonwealth’s non-discrimination laws.

Here’s to 2012! Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advocating for Better MA State Police Conduct

GLAD primarily achieves its victories through impact litigation in the courts, but we also look for other ways that we can accomplish our mission. One recent example is our participation in the Massachusetts Transgender Equal Rights Coalition that resulted in the successful passage of a law that adds protections for transgender people to the state’s anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws. Another example is our participation in meetings with police that help to educate the police about LGBT concerns and gives us a way to discuss any concerns that we hear about through our Legal InfoLine.

Over two years ago, GLAD began to receive complaints through our Legal InfoLine from gay men who reported that some Boston Police officers were acting very aggressively towards gay men who were just walking through or near the Fens. Officers would approach the men and ask very invasive questions and threaten people with arrest if they did not answer truthfully.

As a result of these complaints, representatives from the Anti-Violence Project, the Violence Recovery Program at Fenway Community Health, the Male Center of AIDS Action Committee, the LGBT liaison from the Mayor’s Office and GLAD began to meet on a regular basis with some of the Boston Police leadership, including the Superintendent, and with the officer who is the liaison to the LGBT community.

Initially there was an exchange of information and a lot of learning that took place on both sides. The police heard about our concerns and issues, and the LGBT participants learned about how and why the police work in certain ways. After a number of meetings, we were able to build a collaborative and positive working relationship that allowed us to discuss any issues or concerns that we had. Some of the accomplishments include:

  • Agreement on the rights that someone has when confronted by a police officer that finally led to a wallet card being produced that could be given out by LGBT outreach workers. These cards were used by the Boston Police to educate their officers in the field about the appropriate way to interact with someone they perceive to be LGBT.
  • The Boston Police run all incident reports through a computer to help identify cases where a hate crime may have occurred. We were able to assist the police in adding other key words to their search so that more incidents would be identified as potential hate crimes.
  • A caller to the InfoLine had been charged with a very serious felony in a situation where only a misdemeanor charge was warranted. The police were able to intervene and get the charges dropped.
  • The Fens has signs that post the closing time of the park—but they don’t list the same time. We all agreed that replacing them with signs that are consistent is necessary, but so far the resources have not been found to make it happen.

When GLAD receives calls to the InfoLine that report Boston Police misconduct, there is now a forum for discussing the incident with the Boston Police. Interestingly, we have not had a complaint on the InfoLine concerning a Boston Police officer for over a year.

Due to the success of this collaboration with the Boston Police, when the InfoLine began to receive some complaints this fall about State Police misconduct on public land, a meeting was setup with the same LGBT groups and the Executive Office of Public Safety, the State Police, the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

In 2001, GLAD won a settlement that resulted in the State Police issuing a General Order about how State Police should treat law abiding citizens on public property. At the meeting, it was good to see that the General Order had been reissued in 2009 and so was still in effect. This meeting was the beginning of a dialogue that we hope will lead to the establishment of a positive working relationship with the State Police. There has already been a second meeting with Colonel Marian McGovern and some of her staff and we have agreed to work with the Massachusetts State Police to create a training curriculum around LGBT issues.

Anyone with concerns about the police is encouraged to contact GLAD’s Legal InfoLine. The InfoLine is a free, confidential service. Contact the InfoLine at 800-455-GLAD (4523) Monday-Friday from 1:30-4:30pm or anytime at

Friday, December 9, 2011

Correcting the record for Jon Huntsman

The Washington Blade, an LGBT newspaper in D.C., is reporting today on comments that Republican Presidential Candidate Jon Huntsman recently made about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Huntsman, a former governor of Utah and ex-ambassador to China, is the most moderate and LGBT-friendly of the Republican candidates but is polling at the bottom of the pack. Nonetheless, he definitely got it wrong when he suggested that “DOMA serves a useful purpose” in that it allows states to make their own decisions on marriage.

Here’s the full text of the exchange between Huntsman and Blade reporter Chris Johnson:

Blade: If I could just follow up on that really quickly, the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage — even in states where it’s already legalized. As a matter of states’ rights, do you think it should be repealed?

Huntsman: I think the Defense of Marriage Act serves a useful purpose. It allows states to make their own decisions, to make their own way, and the Defense of Marriage Act, I think, is a safeguard for those states to make that decision.

DOMA allows states to make their own decisions on marriage? Really? Tell that to the plaintiffs in our Gill and Pedersen DOMA challenges. The states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont decided to let them get married, yet that decision isn’t respected at the federal level because of DOMA. That’s not very useful to Gill plaintiffs like 81-year-old widower Herb Burtis, who can’t access his deceased spouse’s Social Security benefits; or federal postal worker Nancy Gill who can’t cover her wife Marcelle (the couple is pictured at left) on her family health insurance plan – which is why the federal court Judge Joseph Tauro ruled in favor of the Gill plaintiffs last year. (The case is now in the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit; we are currently awaiting a Pedersen decision from the Second Circuit Court.)

And rather than be able to ensure that all residents who marry within their borders are protected at the federal level, marriage equality states are forced against their will to discriminate against their own citizens, as our Attorney General Martha Coakley successfully argued in Massachusetts v. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, the state’s lawsuit against DOMA. It’s a position that Gov. Deval Patrick – along with Connecticut’s Gov. Dannel Malloy, Vermont’s Gov. Pete Shumlin and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, where same-sex couples can also marry – reiterated in a recent letter to Congress calling for DOMA’s repeal.

As Judge Tauro noted in his Gill decision, “the historically entrenched practice of incorporating state law determinations of marital status where they are relevant to federal law reflects a long-recognized reality of the federalist system under which this country operates. The states alone have the authority to set forth eligibility requirements as to familial relationships and the federal government cannot, therefore, have a legitimate interest in disregarding those family status determinations properly made by the states.” In other words, when states decide to enact equal marriage laws, the federal government needs to respect them.

So what Mr. Huntsman really should have said was that DOMA “allows states to make their own decisions, to make their own way, and the Defense of Marriage Act, I think, is a safeguard for those states that want to continue to discriminate against same-sex couples to make that decision.”

We’re happy to set the record straight for him.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day: The Fight is Not Over

Post by GLAD Senior Legal Assistant Joseph Wildey

I remember Linda Ellerbee, the anchor for Nick News, addressing an audience of curious tweens. Her tone, often upbeat, was unusually serious at the start of this particular episode. As the program began, Ellerbee informed the audience of what was then an epidemic in full swing: HIV/AIDS.

The year was 1992 and I was only seven years old, but I remember this television moment with particular vividness. I can recall her interview with Magic Johnson, and the demonstration of effective condom use that followed. An already neurotic child, I catalogued this experience in the folder I kept full of things to worry about.

Some time later I remember having a conversation with my mother about the topic. My mother was never shy about educating me, and she told me that HIV/AIDS was a disease that gay men got. I do not believe—because it is not in my mother's nature—that this statement was the result of prejudice or bias; at the time, it was a disease that mostly affected gay men. However, to my young ears, what my mother said sounded like, "If you are gay, you will get AIDS."

It was an alarming moment, then, when I realized I was gay. At that time, HIV/AIDS began to fade from the public consciousness; the advent of the “cocktail therapy” had extended life expectancy and created the perception that the disease could be a chronic yet manageable condition.

HIV/AIDS slowly became just another risk associated with sexual activity, breezed over in health class among the panoply of viral and bacterial consequences drilled into the heads of hormonally-active teenagers. The privilege to avoid confronting HIV/AIDS continued into college, even when I came out to my parents and friends. Among the small group of gay friends I developed, no one had been personally impacted by the disease and it simply was not discussed.

It wasn't until I was twenty-three that I befriended someone who identified as HIV-positive. I was introduced to this person by an acquaintance who informed me of his status prior to our meeting. Being uncomfortable with the topic, I feigned ignorance when he disclosed his status to me one night over dinner. But I listened with rapt attention as he told me about being diagnosed in 1986 and not having any idea what came next, or even whether he would be alive to experience a next anything.

I learned that my friend’s partner at the time also tested positive and passed away several years after his diagnosis. My friend showed me an address book that he used that contained hundreds of names, the majority of which were crossed out, indicating that the person died from the disease. It's hard to explain the emotions that this interaction evoked, because there were many, but one of the most prominent was a sense of guilt: I felt guilty for not taking the steps necessary to fully understand the epidemic and its history.

While I lived through the earliest years of the epidemic, my age effectively shielded me from what many painfully endured. My own awareness was raised slowly over time, and I am now in a position to effect changes in the attitudes and perceptions of others through my work at GLAD. It has been an eye-opening personal journey.

In my two years here, I have assisted Bennett Klein, our AIDS Law Project Director, with cases that would boggle the mind of anyone convinced that the stigma and discrimination tied to HIV/AIDS are concerns relegated to the past. Insurers still routinely deny coverage for necessary treatments related to HIV/AIDS, communities still discriminate against HIV-positive individuals, and HIV-positive individuals are still viewed by many as dangerous and distinctly “other.” HIV/AIDS has not gone away; it has just faded into the background.

In November, Magic Johnson renewed the focus on the epidemic when he reminded the world that he is still HIV-positive, twenty years after he first made his announcement. During his interview, he reflected on those first moments after receiving his diagnosis, and the considerations that influenced his disclosure. For me, his interview was a timely reminder that the enormous progress made during the past twenty years is contingent upon a continued campaign of consciousness-raising and education.

It is my hope that members of my own generation—those who grew up amid pervasive fear but came of age amid rising hope—remember the life or death struggle and reignite in themselves that sense of urgency and passion that existed in the earliest years of the epidemic. The fight is not over, but with every passing day it looks more and more winnable.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Justice, Justice, We Shall Pursue

Some of the many who fought hard for passage of the MA Transgender Rights Bill:
Arline Isaacson
, Jennifer Levi, Carly Burton, Gavi Wolfe, Rep. Carl Sciortino, Gunner Scott and Kara Suffredini. Photo by Chris Riley.

Jennifer L. Levi, GLAD's Transgender Rights Project Director,
on passage of the Transgender Equal Rights Bill in Massachusetts

I am new to tweeting as anyone can tell. Technological neophyte that I am, I committed to learning it, though, because of several recent chances I’ve had to be on the front lines of civil rights advances. I want to be sure that members of our community who can’t leave their obligations to rush to our state capitals get the minute-to-minute updates and details of how the hard work of social justice is unfolding.

So when I got the call on Monday afternoon at my office in Easthampton that the bill our coalition had worked on for nearly a decade (if you count the early work on the Boston ordinance as the foundation), I knew I’d have to tweet the progress and developments around the bill. After a long day of legislative developments, I sent out a tweet last night at close to 6 p.m. about the mackerel that sits atop the huge chandelier above the Senate Gallery. I knew my colleague Laura Kiritsy was right when she texted me, “it’s time for you to go home.”

Still, it had been a wild ride of a day. I defied her suggestion, staying just a few minutes more for final enactment by the Senate. I was sitting with Gavi Wolfe, legal counsel for the ACLU and just behind Ken and Marcia Gerber as well as Liz Monnin-Browder’s mom, when it happened. It was all over - the Transgender Equal Rights Bill had passed. It was headed to the governor’s desk where we know he will enthusiastically sign it.

We all left the Senate gallery and walked downstairs to welcome and thank our champions. Senator Chang-Diaz walked out first. She hugged Ken and Marcia Garber and invited all of the supporters to come onto the floor of the Senate to hear some final remarks. Senator Chang Diaz poignantly talked about Ken and Marcia’s son CJ who was transgender and whose life succumbed to the bigotry and hatred of a society that does not yet fully and completely respect the dignity and sanctity of transgender people’s lives. Everyone in the chamber – senators, aides, staff, and clerks – then rose to applaud Ken and Marcia and all the activists and advocates who had put in thousands of hours at the statehouse and beyond to educate legislators and the community, necessary work to get to where we did in final passage of the bill. It was an amazing day. I knew it and could feel it in my heart and exhausted body.

Still the victory was bittersweet. The bill we got passed includes essential protections for the community. It includes the hate crimes protections we need to combat violence. It rewrites the laws in the Commonwealth to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, credit, lending, and in our k-12 public schools to protect our youth. It admits of no exceptions in these areas. Employees are fully protected; students are fully protected; tenants and credit applicants are fully protected. We’d not allowed our opponents to cut out protections for anyone in our community. The bill does NOT require that you meet any particular definition of what it means to be transgender to be protected nor does it exclude any particular spaces within those areas of protection. I feel proud of that.

And yet, and yet, the bill is not complete. It is not perfect. It passed without important protections for transgender people in the public sphere. Because too many legislators were not yet ready to deal with the full reality of our lives, the bill came out of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary without public accommodations protections.

Contrary to popular belief, public accommodations protections are not solely about bathrooms and locker rooms (which are important, to be sure). Public accommodations refers to any facility – stores, restaurants, movie theatres, malls, for example – that opens itself up to the public for the purpose of providing goods or services. And, like the employment, education, housing, credit, lending, and anti-violence provisions of the bill that passed, the public accommodations provisions are also essential to the community. We fought like hell to keep them in, then hoped against hope that our legislative champions could get them put back in as the bill progressed from House to Senate. They could not.

As I made the 2 hour trip west to my home last night in the pouring rain, I kept hearing the refrain from Deuteronomy in my mind over and over and over again. Justice, justice, you must pursue. Justice, justice, you must pursue. Yesterday was a huge victory at the statehouse. It came after years of hard work by many, many, many people and many, many, many organizations. Those of us working together on this issue have become like a family. Sometimes we get along, sometimes we don’t. We agree on a lot of things, and disagree on some. We banded together and forged a strong community to get more rights for the transgender community than we had before yesterday’s historic votes. There is more work to do. I know we are all committed not to rest until that work is complete.

Justice, justice, we shall pursue.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Discrimination on the basis of HIV status persists

Post by GLAD Senior Legal Assistant Joseph Wildey

GLAD recently provided assistance to a man charged with a serious crime—who spent over a month in jail as a result—simply because he is HIV-positive. Since then, I have been thinking about the necessity of education, particularly when it aims to dispel wholly unfounded beliefs.

In fifth grade, my teacher integrated health, fitness, and disease, including the sexually transmitted variety, into the curriculum. Classroom giggles aside, the lessons were informative; they taught me to maintain a cautious yet balanced perspective on prevention.

I remember learning that certain diseases were contagious, but not contagious like the common cold. A person needed to engage in more than just casual contact in order to transmit HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

And what about shaking hands, or sharing a drinking glass with someone who is HIV-positive? Those are both perfectly safe activities with no risk of transmission, I learned. I could even hug someone who was HIV-positive, and express affection through kissing, without fear of becoming infected.

Such instruction prepared me for a world outside of school where I would undoubtedly meet and interact with people who were HIV-positive. Rather than experiencing fear in such an instance, and expressing that fear through bias or discrimination, I would be informed and open-minded.

Unfortunately, when asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “HIV can be transmitted through saliva as a result of sharing a drinking glass with someone who is HIV-positive,” sixteen percent of Americans agreed, as shown in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

Another thirty percent of those surveyed believed that kissing someone who is HIV-positive can also lead to infection.

Yet while the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has said conclusively that HIV cannot be transmitted via saliva, the public misconceptions surrounding HIV persist in the third decade of the epidemic.

These unfounded beliefs fuel pervasive stigma and discrimination in society, as demonstrated by continued criminal prosecutions of HIV-positive individuals.

This past summer, I provided assistance as GLAD successfully interceded in an HIV-related criminal prosecution in Connecticut. The incident involved a person from Massachusetts who was charged with serious felonies as a result of spitting on a law enforcement official during an arrest.

The inflated charges, which included assault on a police officer, assault with a deadly weapon, and criminal mischief, were solely based on the fact that the individual who spit on the official identified himself as being HIV-positive during the incident.

In this scenario, HIV transmission could not have occurred, as anyone privy to the lessons taught in my fifth grade classroom would have known.

The prosecutors viewed this person’s HIV, and the fact that he had spit on the officer, as assault with a deadly weapon, despite clear scientific evidence that saliva is not a mode of HIV transmission.

Fortunately, the charges were eventually reduced, but only after GLAD, while working with the person’s public defender, marshaled an array of medical experts and advocated with public officials in order to refute the charges and secure this person’s release.

Other HIV-positive individuals have not been as fortunate. Nationwide, criminal prosecutions for similar incidents where the risk of transmission is zero are astoundingly common.

In the United States, groups like The Center for HIV Law & Policy have compiled non-exhaustive lists of at least 118 prosecutions and arrests for HIV exposure between 2008 and 2011. Many of the cases listed involve nondisclosure of a person’s HIV-positive status during a sexual encounter; however, a sizeable number of prosecutions and arrests were the result of spitting or biting.

One of the more egregious prosecutions occurred in Texas in 2008, when an HIV-positive homeless man was sentenced to 35 years in prison as a result of spitting; his saliva was viewed as a deadly weapon in that case.

The continued prosecution of HIV-positive individuals can be linked to the fear and outright hostility that characterized the beginning of the epidemic. The residual effects of this stigma and discrimination still affect HIV-positive individuals, especially those interacting with the criminal justice system.

GLAD’s AIDS Law Project was founded in 1984, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and more than ten years before I learned the importance of choosing facts over fear. GLAD continues to educate people about misconceptions surrounding HIV-positive individuals and to ensure that policies are based on science.

However, as this experience in Connecticut illustrates, there is still much work to be done.

Friday, October 14, 2011

In case you missed it: Bay Windows coverage of Spirit of Justice

This week's Bay Windows has a great front page story on our wonderful Governor Deval Patrick and his family, who will accept GLAD's Spirit of Justice Award at our annual Spirit of Justice Award Dinner in exactly one week! There is not a family who is more deserving of this honor. They're the real deal when it comes to working toward full equality for the LGBT community.

Full disclosure: I wrote the story, so of course I think it's great, but I hope you will, too. It's a longer version of a story that originally ran in our Summer Briefs back in June, so if you think you've already it, there's more to the story. Go read it and let me know what you think.

'We’re all in this together'
GLAD to honor Mass. First Family with Spirit of Justice Award

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Parents: Pledge to Protect LGBT Families

Join parents across the country in taking the pledge to support the standards for LGBT families:

1) Support the Rights of LGBT Parents.
2) Honor Existing Relationships Regardless of Legal Labels.
3) Honor the Children’s Existing Parental Relationships After a Break-Up.
4) Maintain Continuity For the Children.
5) Seek a Voluntary Resolution.
6) Remember That Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.
7) Investigate Allegations Of Abuse.
8) The Absence of Agreements or Legal Relationships Should Not Determine Outcome.
9) Treat Litigation as a Last Resort.
10) Refuse to Resort to Homophobic/Transphobic Laws and Sentiments.

Monday, September 26, 2011

KISS 108 makes up for anti-trans comments with pro-trans bill PSA

This post comes at the risk of further confusing folks who are already confused about the difference between GLAD and our friends at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, also known as GLAAD (or "Double-A GLAAD" to our "Single-A GLAD"). For the record, GLAD is a legal organization. GLAAD works to promote positive and accurate representations of LGBT people in the media.

With that out of the way, GLAAD did some great work with KISS 108 after some anti-trans on-air comments were made in response to the announcement of Chaz Bono's Dancing with the Stars gig. Justin Ward, GLAAD's media field strategist, reached out KISS 108 and the result was that the station agreed to air a free public service announcement (PSA) in support of the Transgender Equal Rights Bill, which would add protections for transgender people to our state's non-discrimination and hate crimes laws. GLAAD and members of the Massachusetts Transgender Equal Rights Coalition -- including GLAD -- worked up a script that gets at the heart of why the Transgender Equal Rights Bill needs to be passed during this legislative session.

I've posted the first half of a post on this effort from GLAAD's blog. Read on for more details about this good news and follow the link at the bottom to hear the PSA.

Transgender visibility is on the rise nationwide, thanks in large part to Chaz Bono becoming the first openly transgender contestant on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. Yet, even with recent breakthroughs in transgender visibility, his presence on the hit show was met with both positive and negative reactions in the media. In particular, GLAAD learned of disparaging comments made on Boston’s KISS 108 radio morning show, which boasts an average of almost 670,000 listeners weekly. Taking KISS 108’s top-rated listenership and community influence into consideration, GLAAD reached out to the Clear Channel station in the wake of the comments made.

Jim Clerkin, the producer of ‘Matty in the Morning,’ and Mary Menna, President & Marketing Manager for Clear Channel, were the first to hear from GLAAD on the issue. Through a series of correspondence, GLAAD, in conjunction with Massachusetts Transgender Equal Rights Coalition (MassEquality, Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders - GLAD, and more), was offered a series of free 15-second public service announcements by KISS 108, Boston’s #1 rated radio station. Through swift and effective outreach GLAAD successfully brought about tangible results in the form of public education about transgender people, the discrimination they face, and the need for protections. The PSA campaign, which will air at various times throughout the day on the station, comes at a pivotal time for Massachusetts transgender equality.
Read the rest of this post and listen to the PSA here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Know Your Rights: You Don’t Need to Divorce Where You Married

Now that marriage for same-sex couples has been available for over 7 years and civil unions have been available for over 11 years, the Legal InfoLine is receiving an increasing number of calls from couples who need to end their relationship. Many of the callers think that their only option is to return to the place where they entered into their relationship. Although same-sex couples do not have the same flexibility to end a relationship as different-sex couples, they do not always have to return to the place where they entered into the relationship.

For different-sex married couples, it is usually possible for the couple to divorce where they are currently living regardless of where they originally married. The reason for this is that for the most part, states respect the marriages of different-sex couples regardless of where the couple married. If a place respects the marriage, provided the couple meets the divorce residency requirements in that locale, they will be allowed to divorce where they currently live.

The complication for same-sex couples is that only certain places respect the marriages or civil unions of same-sex couples, and so you need to live in one of those places to be able to dissolve the relationship.

If you have a same-sex marriage, regardless of where you married, you will be able to dissolve it in places where same-sex couples can legally marry (i.e. MA, CT, NH, VT, IA, DC, NY), provided you meet the residency requirements for that place's divorce law. There may also be some additional states that, although they do not allow same-sex couples to marry, do respect the marriages of same-sex couple, at least for the purpose of divorce.

For couples in civil unions, the civil union can be dissolved in any state that had a civil union at some point, even though they may not now offer civil unions (i.e. VT, CT, NH, NJ, RI, IL and, effective January 1, 2012, DE and HI). Also states with domestic partnerships that offer nearly all the benefits of marriage like CA, OR, WA and NV also will likely dissolve a civil union. In addition, even places that offer marriage for same-sex couples may be willing to dissolve civil unions as well, but possibly using a legal procedure different from divorce (e.g. MA has dissolved civil unions under equity law). However, in all of the above, you will most likely still need to satisfy a residency requirement before the state has jurisdiction to dissolve your civil union.

For either ending a marriage or a civil union it only takes one member of the couple to file for the dissolution of the relationship, and so only one member of the couple needs to live in a place that respects the relationship, and only one member of the couple needs to meet the residency requirement for ending the relationship.

Although this seems (and is) rather complex, the bottom line is that if you wish to end either a marriage or a civil union don’t assume that the only way to do it is to return to the place where you entered into it. If you live in one of the New England states, contact GLAD’s Legal InfoLine at 800-455-4523 to find out about your options, and, if you live outside New England, contact Lambda Legal (go to to see the contact information for their regional offices).

Thursday, September 8, 2011

When Love Doesn’t Make a Family

It’s often said that nothing compares to the pain of losing a child. Usually, it’s meant in the context of death, but for the countless LGBT people who have lost a relationship with their child or children because of hostile courts and /or ex-partners, that pain can be just as acute.

That’s why this week, GLAD, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and NCLR’s National Family Law Advisory Council released a revised version of Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families, a set of 10 guidelines aimed at reminding LGBT people how important it is to legally protect the families they create and to caution parents against wielding anti-LGBT laws against their partner should their relationship break-up. Basically, we’re calling on the members of our community -- and their lawyers -- to fight fairly and to do their best to avoid damaging custody disputes. As GLAD’s Mary Bonauto writes in her introduction to the standards, “We believe that, even in the midst of the emotional upheaval that inevitably accompanies the end of the adult relationship, families can do a great deal to resolve their differences in a manner that puts their children first.”

I wrote about the issue of same-sex custody disputes back in 2005 for Bay Windows newspaper. Honestly, it was one of the worst experiences of my 11-year journalism career. To put it bluntly, the subject matter was revolting.

In the newsroom we referred to these bitter battles with the shorthand “lesbians behaving badly.” It’s not that we believed they were behaving badly because they were lesbians – clearly, they were just people that had lost sight of their children’s best interests as straight parents certainly do, but for some reason nearly all of these cases involve women and nearly all of them follow a sadly similar plot: A couple in a committed relationship creates a family either biologically or through adoption and holds themselves out to the world as a two-parent family – even if their state doesn’t legally recognize their relationship or allow both parents to create a legal relationship with the child via second-parent adoption or some other mechanism. When the relationship ultimately ends (usually badly) the legally recognized mother attempts to cut her ex out of their child’s life by arguing in court that her ex has no legal rights as a parent – or in the worst cases, that her ex is not and never was a parent at all.

In one of the more notorious cases, GLAD represented Janet Jenkins, whose ex-partner Lisa Miller, now an evangelical Christian and “ex-gay,” has waged a particularly ugly battle to keep Janet from their daughter, Isabella. When the courts ultimately awarded Janet custody of the child after years of Lisa’s obstructionism, Lisa kidnapped Isabella and fled the country; she remains at large.

In another case that I wrote about, a parent characterized her ex-partner as merely performing “caretaking functions” for their child while the parent worked outside the home. Keri Lynn Jones, a non-biological mom from Utah that I wrote about, recalled her lawyer telling her she needed to itemize every penny she had ever spent on her daughter in an effort to prove to the court she had acted as the child’s parent. “It is seriously one of the most painful things I’ve ever dealt with in my life,” Jones told me of having to prove her parentage. The Utah Supreme Court ultimately ruled that Jones, who was represented by NCLR, did not have standing to seek custody or visitation with the daughter she helped bring into the world with her former partner Cheryl Pike Barlow.

Not only are these cases devastating to the children and the parents who are cut out of their lives, they create bad case law and thus set back the whole LGBT movement, or parenting rights in general. As NCLR notes of the Utah Supreme Court decision, “[it] abolished protections for all children with non-biological parents rather than provide these protections equally to children with lesbian parents.”

The standards are common-sense reminders to LGBT people to respect and honor their family relationships in the best interest of the children involved, regardless of legal labels (#2). We hope that couples can come to a voluntary resolution (#5) and that litigation is used as a last resort (#9). It’s also our hope that couples don’t resort to homophobic / transphobic law and sentiments (#10). As Mary, who authored the original standards, writes in the revised version, “Do not resort to arguments that a person who is not a ‘legal’ parent has no right to seek custody or visitation.”

Protecting Families
was first published in 1999 in response to a steady stream of custody battles involving same-sex couples. GLAD, with assistance from NCLR and its National Family Law Advisory Council updated the standards to reflect recent changes in relationship recognition laws, including the implementation of marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples in many states.

Despite advances in relationship recognition, which provide more protections for non-biological parents, the custody battles persist, due to a combination of inconsistencies in family law from state to state and because some LGBT people just refuse to play fair in the heat of a bitter break-up.

It’s our collective hope that these revised standards and our renewed push to raise awareness of them in the LGBT and legal communities might help change the dynamic that has become all too common in our community.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Learning About LGBTQ Rights and Passing It On

Guest post by GLAD Summer Intern Andy Vo

I’ll be honest: when I first interviewed for an internship at GLAD, I knew I wanted the job for personal reasons. I told my future bosses and co-workers that I wanted this job not only because I had a lot to bring to the table, but also because I wanted to connect with the community I’ve pushed aside far too often. What I found after working for eight weeks at GLAD is that I’ve grown personally and professionally, to an extent I never thought I would.

What GLAD did for me is something no other job has done before: created an environment where I could truly be myself. I never had to apologize for who I was, or feel like I had to hide anything about myself. At GLAD, I never saw any ‘office politics’ at play. I never saw one co-worker as higher up than the other, and I never saw a boss reprimand an intern. Eight weeks in, I couldn’t even tell you who the ‘bosses’ are; there's such a feeling of equality here.

And it’s a great feeling to have. Equality under the law, I suppose, translates to equality in the office. Of course, equality in the office—in the context of equality for LGBT workers—didn’t come easily. It was the result of numerous court cases and battles of which I had never learned.

As a gay teenager just out of high school, I didn’t know very much about the Gay Civil Rights Movement and I had never, ever, heard of GLAD. But on my very first day, I was assigned the task to read up on what GLAD has done these past 30+ years. It’s ridiculous to think that somebody could be refused medical help because they’re living with HIV/AIDS, or that a transgender kid couldn’t express who they are in school.

But I think it’s equally ridiculous that kids these days simply don’t grow up learning this history. Before working here, I simply didn’t know that the rights I enjoy today had to be fought for, on the streets and in the courtroom. Because of that, I felt honored to be given the task of assembling a chronology of GLAD court cases and contributions to the Gay Civil Rights Movement.

And when I was finally done with the chronology, I used it to pinpoint where GLAD has helped LGBTQ youth in the process—helping to contribute to GLAD’s increasing commitment to LGBTQ youth. Working on a project like that is really what I loved most about working here this summer. With the knowledge that GLAD is a non-profit, I expected a summer of busy work and fruitless projects that would perennially get shut down by ‘the man.’ Instead, I found that I was actually contributing to the organization in a profound way.

This summer, I also worked closely with Amanda and Bruce on making LGBTQ student rights known in Massachusetts. With Mike, a fellow intern, I’ve assembled materials for a conference of GSA student leaders. We created a brochure from scratch, designed a button and a blue wristband, and prepared bags of GLAD materials for the students. It was the most intense creative project I’ve had, and all the while, it felt like an epic scavenger hunt. I found bookmarks at the front desk, magnets in the InfoLine room, pens in the supply room, folders in development…and now, looking at the finished project, it is breathtaking to see it come to fruition like this.

There is no doubt in my mind that this will have a profound effect on the student leaders at the GSA conference next week. Students deserve to know their rights because if they don’t know them, how else could they fight for them? I can imagine the students bringing them back to their schools and maybe, just maybe, a timid freshman will pick up a brochure and feel a little less alone.

We have all heard the term ‘It Gets Better.’ But if I could be a part of that, and just make things easier for even one student…well, then I’ve done my job. I’ve fulfilled my original goal to connect to the LGBT community I’ve ignored; I’ve done what I set out to do.

And for that, I’m forever grateful to GLAD.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Interning at GLAD: A Chance to Learn From and Contribute to My Community

Guest Post by GLAD Summer Intern Michael Raleigh

On the first day of my internship at GLAD, I was greeted at the door by Eric Carreño, Operations Manager, who offered me a pastry from a silver tray. I knew instantly that the staff at GLAD is awe

This has been my first experience working at an office, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I hope any other office I may work at in the future will be modeled after this one. One empowering aspect of GLAD’s culture is the equality throughout the office. As an intern, I’ve never felt pushed aside, and I never feel that my voice is insignificant. I’ve been assigned very few “intern-y” tasks, and they are always quick, painless, and have some sort of positive impact. I never go home feeling that the work I’m doing as an intern at GLAD has no meaning.

I feel much more informed on issues that are very important to me. I understand the legal reasons why the Obama Administration isn’t defending DOMA; I have a deeper understanding of the adversity the LGBTQ community faces; I appreciate every victory of the Civil Rights movement more than before. I’ve also become more cynical about the United States of America’s willingness to afford equal rights to all of its citizens. Before coming to GLAD, I didn’t truly know what DOMA was. I knew it was an anti-gay law, but I didn’t know it forced the federal government to treat some legally married couples as if they had no connection to each other. I wasn’t aware that it was so blatantly discriminatory. In fact, in GLAD’s case Gill v. OPM Judge Tauro of the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts ruled that Congress had no rational basis for the creation of DOMA.

A long-term project I took on in my first week at GLAD consisted of editing and updating a Spanish translation of the “Massachusetts Overview of Legal Issues For Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgender People” publication. At times this has been an amusing experience, especially when trying to accurately render “foot-tapping” (à la Larry Craig) into Spanish. It has also been a very informative experience: I have had the opportunity to play with texts in multiple languages, and have realized that as much as I love it, I want to try active interpretation because it requires communicating with other human beings.

Speaking of communicating with other human beings: when Bruce Bell, InfoLine Manager, asked me if I would work on the Legal InfoLine, I had many initial reservations. Because I didn’t understand what the InfoLine was, I thought it would be boring and menial; however, when I worked up the courage to take a phone call, I absolutely fell in love with it. The InfoLine is one way I can have a meaningful impact on people’s lives, even though I will likely never meet them. It’s truly amazing to have such an impact in such a short amount of time.

My other big project has been working alongside another intern, Andy Vo, on preparing materials for an upcoming high school GSA leadership conference (16-18 August) at UMASS Amherst. Having just graduated from high school, both Andy and I are very connected to students’ rights issues, so the opportunity to work on a project that was so close to our own experiences was incredible. We learned a ton about the legislation and case law that relates to the rights of students. From this information we created a brochure publication for MA students, designed a button, helped design the blue wrist bands people are wearing in the office (see below), stuffed goodie bags for the GSA leaders, and helped Vickie Henry, Senior Staff Attorney, create a slideshow presentation as well as a timeline of LGBTQ student rights for her presentation at the conference.

GLAD has provided me with opportunities to learn from and contribute to my community in a positive, meaningful, and enduring way. For that, I am forever grateful.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Knowing Your Rights Is the First Step to Being Your Own Advocate For Change

Hana Tauber, Community Engagement Coordinator

In the Public Affairs and Education wing of GLAD we are always so delighted when we can provide information that helps people successfully fight for their rights. Information is power, and it is our job to spread the word in the community about what legal protections exist to protect people no matter what their sexual orientation, HIV status or gender identity might be. As educators and advocates, we are excited when community members take the law under their arm and advocate for themselves.

A week ago we got a call on the InfoLine from a same-sex married couple who were denied spousal health insurance by a Massachusetts public entity. This couple knew that something was wrong.

Our callers made a strong impression on us since they handled the situation with such determination. They remembered all of the names of the people that they spoke to; they were asking clear and directed questions; they had a timeline of events; and they called all ends of the spectrum from the insurance company, to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, to GLAD.

We were able to guide them through some steps to challenge the information that they were given. Sometimes simply requesting a denial in writing is enough to cause authorities to take a closer look at their decisions and correct them. Massachusetts authorities realized, a little late, that they cannot deny state, country or municipal employees same-sex spousal health benefits.

When they won health insurance coverage for the spouse, they thanked us by sending a fruit, cracker and cheese basket. This was the first time that we ever received a gift from one of our InfoLine callers, and we were, well, just touched. They wrote to us saying that:

Your team at GLAD talked us through every step of the process to get us to where we needed to be, which was having my employer provide health insurance for my wife in addition to myself. We have never encountered such cooperation and compassion while getting correct information based on the law and our rights as a same-sex married couple with which to combat the inaccurate information being given to me by my employer.

Thank you to this amazing couple, to our volunteers, to our legal team for having our back, and to the community for turning to us for information.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before: Anti-gay activists attempting a lawsuit to overturn marriage equality in NY

Last week’s news that anti-gay activists filed a lawsuit to overturn New York’s new marriage equality law and to nullify the nuptials that have happened since the law took effect July 24 brought back fond memories of the four frivolous lawsuits that were filed in the run-up to May 17, 2004, the day our Goodridge marriage ruling went into effect.

The thousands of happily married same-sex couples in the Bay State are the proof that those lawsuits were tossed out in less time than it takes to say “I do.” Without boring you with the details, they were all pretty ridiculous (you can read about them here.) The bottom line is that each of the suits was a desperate attempt to stop the first marriages of same sex couples in the country.

Not surprisingly, Liberty Counsel, the Florida-based right-wing organization that has filed suit against the New York Senate, was behind one of the suits filed in Massachusetts. Liberty is representing a group called New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, an organization that, according to its website “exists to influence legislation and legislators for the Lord Jesus Christ.” WWJD? Hire a lobbyist, apparently.

And which Liberty Counsel lawyer is representing New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms? That would be Rena Lindevaldsen, the same attorney who represented a group of anti-gay state legislators in Massachusetts who wanted to delay the implementation of Goodridge until after they had the opportunity to vote on their constituents’ right to marry. Nice try, but even the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t want to touch that one.

The LGBT blog Box Turtle Bulletin has a great piece up about the NY lawsuit, which includes some interesting tidbits and links exposing Lindevaldsen’s somewhat extreme views, including her statement at a conference hosted by the rabidly anti-gay group Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, in which she reportedly griped that she does not appreciate the separation of church and state one bit.

“When they ask me to be secular in my argumentation, they’re asking me to give up Truth. They’re asking me to give up my best weapon which is the absolute reality that I know from God,” Lindevaldsen said, according to the Friendly Atheist blog. “They’re asking me to go over onto their playing field and use their weapons that they chose for me.”

Lindevaldsen is also well known to GLAD because she is the attorney representing Lisa Miller, the woman who kidnapped her daughter Isabella and fled to Nicaragua in violation of a court order that transferred custody to Isabella’s other mother and Lisa’s ex-partner, Janet Jenkins, who is our client. The FBI arrested a Christian missionary in the case some months back. You can read more about that in our April 22 post.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

GLAD attorney makes his marriage work...for LGBT equality!

Check out this post by our staff attorney Janson Wu.

About a month ago the American Medical Association (AMA) passed a resolution in support of marriage equality, joining every leading professional medical, scientific, and social science community in denouncing the exclusion of American citizens from marriage. In passing this resolution, the AMA recognized the severe adverse health affects that marriage inequality has on LGBT people as well as their children.

What made this success even more thrilling was that I got to work with my spouse, Adam Levine, on this issue. With my GLAD colleague Mary Bonauto, I advised on the language used in drafting the resolution. Adam then worked with other AMA delegates for over a year to help lead it to passage.

But this was not Adam’s and my first professional collaboration, nor our first success. About two months ago the Massachusetts Medical Society passed a resolution in support of transgender anti-discrimination protections. Adam, a physician delegate to the MMS, and I worked on the draft of the resolution and the accompanying report, strategized responses to any opposition, and identified the key individuals within the MMS whose support was crucial for the resolution’s success.

My work with Adam in building support within the medical community for LGBT equality dates back almost four years to a dinner table argument. Back then, we were an overcommitted, career-oriented professional couple with not enough time to see each other. (Hmm… maybe that hasn’t really changed much.) And so, I kept pushing Adam not to renew his involvement in the various medical associations, including the MMS and the AMA, because I saw it as an opportunity to free up more of his time (for me, of course).

Not to mention, what did he get out of it anyway?

In response, Adam tried to convince me that he remained involved with the MMS and AMA because, for him, it was one of the ways he could effect social justice change within his own profession. He pointed to the many LGBT-friendly resolutions that he had helped pass at the AMA over the years. Incredulous still, I challenged him: “Well, could you get the AMA to support the importance of transgender-related health care?”

“Sure,” Adam answered. “Let’s do it.”

And with that, we drafted a resolution asking the AMA to support private and public health insurance coverage of transition-related health. We created FAQs and talking points, analyzed various proposed amendments and generally worked together to guide the resolution to ultimate success at the AMA in 2008. It was a terrific victory that no one thought would happen.

Over the years, Adam has also gotten the AMA to sign onto an amicus brief in a transgender prisoner case in Wisconsin, secured supportive testimony from the president of the Rhode Island Medical Association in support of marriage equality, and helped us reach out to supportive doctors and state medical associations throughout New England.

Dating (and now being married to) a doctor has always had its challenges (overnight shifts, long hours, etc.). But getting to work with him on these projects that combine both our worlds has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve gotten to do at GLAD. I guess this is one argument that I lost.

Now, if I can only get him to stop going to so many conferences.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Class Act: Author Jodi Picoult Will Receive the Community Award at the Summer Party July 30

Last week’s Bay Windows has a great interview with bestselling author Jodi Picoult, in which she discusses her latest novel, Sing You Home, and the Community Award she’ll receive from GLAD at our annual Summer Party in Provincetown on Saturday, July 30. Full disclosure: I authored the piece on Jodi, so I may be biased about how great it is, but it’s clear from reading it that Jodi is a class act and a committed supporter of the LGBT community. In fact, she took time to do the early-morning interview with me in the midst of caring for an ill family member who was in the hospital. Nonetheless, she was very gracious and thoughtful throughout our chat.

What was most surprising to me was the amount of research Jodi did in preparing to write Sing You Home, the story of Zoe and Vanessa, a lesbian couple who are trying to start a family through artificial insemination in the face of a legal challenge from Zoe’s ex-husband Max, an evangelical Christian. In addition to consulting Lise Iwon, the openly lesbian president of the Rhode Island Bar Association and a longtime GLAD collaborator and supporter on the particulars of LGBT family law (which led her to create the character of Angela Moretti, the fictional GLAD lawyer who represents Zoe in court), Jodi told me she spent an enlightening (and not in a good way) time talking with some of the folks from Focus on the Family, a notoriously anti-gay organization, and even thanks Focus’ “ex-lesbian” activist Melissa Fryrear in Sing You Home’s acknowledgements (like I said, she’s a class act).

This isn’t to say that she at all buys into Focus on the Family’s anti-gay ideology, as she made clear in our interview. Jodi told me she had long wanted to tackle gay issues in her fiction because the country has not yet granted full equality to gay and lesbian people. That desire became even stronger when her teenage son Kyle came out to her and his dad during the writing of Sing You Home. As she said in the interview, “It wasn’t just a theoretical journey anymore. It was really, for me, a mom’s mission: how do I make the world a better place so that when Kyle’s ready to get married and have his kids, he doesn’t have to jump through hoops in order to do it.”

But Jodi’s advocacy for the LGBT community goes beyond the affirming message of Sing You Home. In a wide-ranging live chat with the Trevor Project – to which she is donating a portion of the book’s proceeds – earlier this year, she revealed that she has been mentoring a young lesbian who was struggling with her unaccepting conservative Christian family. On top of that, she’s been engaging in dialogue with the many fans who have written to criticize her for Sing You Home’s portrayal of the homophobic Christian right (which, based on my experience, is spot on), and confronting their misguided arguments against gay rights -- and against gay people generally -- head on.

With Jodi, art clearly imitates life. That’s why GLAD is proud to honor her at this year’s Summer Party. We hope you’ll join us on July 30!

Want to be in Jodi Picoult's next book? You could win that - and other fantastic packages - in our amazing Summer Party auction (you don't need to be present to bid on many items)!