Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Attention Lawyers! Learn How To Better Serve Your Transgender Clients

There’s still time to reserve your spot for GLAD’s first-of-its kind seminar “Representing Transgender Clients in Family Law,” a program that aims to provide resources and training for family law practitioners representing transgender clients in Massachusetts. This free seminar takes place at the Boston Bar Association on 16 Beacon Street in Boston on Monday, May 2 from 4 p.m. – 6p.m.

Despite the growing visibility of transgender people and the legal issues that affect them in the last 10-15 years, for many attorneys transgender issues are uncharted turf. We’re hoping to begin changing that with next week’s seminar.

“By providing this training session we hope to expand the resources available to transgender people who face family law issues,” says GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director Jennifer Levi, who will be presenting at the seminar. “The seminar will offer family law practitioners practical information and resources to help them better serve transgender clients, who, unfortunately, are extremely vulnerable in the legal system because of pervasive bias and misunderstanding about transgender people’s lives.”

GLAD is proud to cosponsor the seminar with the Massachusetts LGBTQ Bar Association, and between the two organizations, we’ve assembled a team of presenters that should make for an enlightening and informative afternoon.

In addition to Jennifer, a nationally recognized expert on transgender issues, the Honorable Angela M. Ordonez, First Justice of Norfolk Probate and Family Court, will share her perspective on family law cases involving transgender litigants (fun fact: Judge Ordonez is the first Hispanic openly gay justice appointed to the Massachusetts bench). Rounding out the roster are some folks who are leading the way on transgender issues in the local legal community: Laura Langley, an associate at Bingham McCutchen and chair of the LGBTQ Bar Association's Committee on Transgender Inclusion; Astrid Tsang of the LGBTQ Bar Association's Committee on Transgender Inclusion and an associate at WilmerHale; Barusch (just one name, like Madonna), a member of the LGBTQ Bar Association’s Committee on Transgender Inclusion and an associate at the Law Office of Joyce Kauffman; and Elizabeth Roberts, chair of the LGBTQ Bar Association’s Family Law Section and an associate at Todd & Weld.

Some of the topics up for discussion include:

  • Introduction to representing a transgender client
  • Guide to legal name changes in Massachusetts probate court
  • Guide to obtaining a legal change of sex in Massachusetts
  • Divorce and support/division of property factors
  • Judicial perspective on family law cases involving transgender litigants

Attendees will also receive a free resource binder to assist them when representing a transgender client.

And there will be snacks, too!

You don’t want to miss this. Register here right now!

But if you can't be with us, check out our related webinar on Wednesday, May 4, which is also titled “Representing Transgender Clients in Family Law,” but is geared toward a national audience. To register visit: www.glad.org/event/2011-trans-clients-webinar

Friday, April 22, 2011

“I am looking forward to having my daughter home safe with me very soon.”

Janet Jenkins with her daughter, Isabella, in 2009

There’s been an interesting development in the Miller-Jenkins case, a high-profile custody case in which GLAD has represented Janet Jenkins, a non-biological mom who sought visitation with her daughter Isabella after the dissolution of her civil union with Lisa Miller, who gave birth to the child. In 2009, frustrated by Lisa’s persistent refusal to cooperate with the visitation order, the Vermont Family Court awarded Janet full custody of Isabella with liberal visitation for Lisa. Lisa then disappeared with Isabella, who is now 9, and Janet has tragically had no contact with her daughter since then, despite her public appeal for Isabella’s return.

But it’s hard not to be a little hopeful that Janet will soon be reunited with her daughter after reading in this morning’s Rutland Herald (pay site), that the FBI has made an arrest related to the case. A man by the name of Timothy David Miller – it’s not known if he’s related to Lisa -- is accused of helping Lisa flee the country with Isabella to a beach house in Nicaragua. According to an FBI affidavit, now posted on our website, Miller is associated with Christian Aid Ministries, a missionary organization.

Miller has been charged with international parental kidnapping, and will appear in U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont in Burlington on April 25 at 9 a.m.

There’s not much information beyond these facts, although we do know that Janet is profoundly grateful for this development, and hopeful. “I’m grateful to everyone in law enforcement for working so hard on finding my daughter, as well as to my attorney, Sarah Star,” Janet said today. I know very little at this point, but I really hope that this means that Isabella is safe and well. I am looking forward to having my daughter home safe with me very soon.”

Sarah is an attorney in Middlebury, Vermont, who has represented Janet in her fight to maintain her relationship with Isabella, which has involved courts in Vermont and Virginia. She received an anonymous phone tip last year that Lisa and Isabella were in Nicaragua, at the home of a man named Philip Zodhiates, which she immediately reported to authorities. Sarah has been dogged in her efforts to help bring Isabella home.

“It is clear that the government has been working hard on this,” Star said today. “Janet is very pleased and we are both hopeful that this will be a step in the right direction of bringing Isabella home. At this point we need to let law enforcement do their work, and recognize that there are still steps to go.”

We hope those steps include the safe return of Isabella to the United States – soon.

GLAD has represented Janet at the appellate level in Vermont, while our colleagues Lambda Legal represented Janet at the appellate level in Virginia.

The Advocate’s Andrew Harmon has written a great piece on today’s development. We recommend it highly.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Know Your Rights: We’re Having a Baby - What Should We Know?

Film still from A Family Portrait screening May 8 as part of
the LGBT Parenting Program at the Boston LGBT Film Festival

GLAD is co-presenting a program on LGBT parenting at the Boston LGBT Film Festival May 8, in honor of Mother's Day. Read more about GLAD's work protecting LGBT parents and children on our website.

When lesbians and gay men have children through artificial insemination or surrogacy, there are often legal steps that should be taken to protect both the child and the parent(s).

Let’s first take the case of a single person. A lesbian who gives birth to a child through artificial insemination or a gay man who has a child through a surrogate who uses his sperm will be considered a legal parent because each is a biological parent of the child. Legal steps need to be taken to insure that neither the sperm donor nor surrogate have parental rights to the child.

If a same-sex couple in New England decides to have a child that they will raise together, there is an important difference between couples who have a legally recognized relationship (e.g. in Massachusetts—marriage, and in Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire—either marriage or a civil union) and those who do not.

Let’s first take the case of a couple who does not have a legally recognized relationship. In this case, only the biological parent will be listed on the birth certificate (again legal measures need to be taken to make sure that neither the sperm donor nor surrogate have the ability to claim parental rights). However, in the six New England states in most cases, there is a way to make the other member of the couple a legal parent, called second parent adoption.

Second parent adoption is a process where a legal parent gives permission for another person to be an equal legal parent. It ultimately requires that a judge determine that it is in the best interests of the child to have both of these people as legal parents. A second parent adoption puts both the biological parent and non-biological parent on equal legal footing as parents.

In Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine, either by statute or high court ruling, second parent adoptions are permitted. In Rhode Island, although there is no law or high court ruling, they are customarily granted by the family courts. In New Hampshire, only judges in certain counties have granted them—however, if the couple has a legally recognized relationship (i.e. marriage or civil union), New Hampshire allows a step-parent adoption.

If a couple is in a legally recognized relationship, then in the case of a lesbian couple when a child is born into the relationship, the presumption is that both are parents and both names should be entered onto the birth certificate. In the case with two gay men who are in a legal relationship, things are not as clear. Pre-birth orders that instruct that both names be put on the birth certificate are allowed in Massachusetts and Connecticut. However, in the other New England states, this does not seem to be the case. This is an area of the law that is in flux, and you should contact GLAD if you are having a child through surrogacy for the most up to date information.

So if a couple with a legally recognized relationship gets both of their names on the birth certificate, is there any need to also do a second parent adoption for the non-biological parent? The answer is a strong YES. The parentage on the birth certificate is based on the couple’s legal relationship. If the couple moves or travels out of state to a place that does not recognize the relationship, then there is a strong possibility that the parentage of the non-biological parent will not be respected. A second parent adoption results in a judge declaring that both people are legal parents. Court rulings of one state are generally respected by all other states, so a second parent adoption provides the best way to ensure the parentage of the non-biological parent.

If you are planning or have had a child, GLAD strongly recommends that you consult with an attorney about the various ways you can protect both the parent(s) and the child. In addition to second parent adoptions, you should have wills, durable powers of attorney, health directives and possibly other legal documents in place. GLAD’s Legal InfoLine can provide you with further information and attorney referrals by calling 800-455-GLAD (4523).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Keep the Maine Human Rights Act Intact

Jennifer Levi, Transgender Rights Project Director

GLAD has been working intensely over the past couple of weeks as part of a coalition of LGBT organizations, civil rights groups and concerned citizens and allies in Maine to defeat LD 1046, a bill that would repeal a vital portion of the Maine Human Rights Act and prevent transgender Mainers from using public restrooms and locker room facilities consistent with their gender identity and expression by restricting access to sex-segregated public facilities based on “biological sex.”

On Tuesday, April 12 I made the trek to the State House in Augusta to deliver 10 minutes of expert testimony – against LD 1046 before the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary. I joined several of my GLAD colleagues and representatives from many of our coalition partners – among them MaineTransNet, EqualityMaine, the Maine Civil Liberties Union, the Maine Women’s Lobby and GLSEN, in a hearing room that was packed mostly with transgender Mainers and others eagerly awaiting their turn to speak against this bill.

The committee heard from inspiring folks like Max Katler, a young trans law student who had been living quietly with his wife on their farm, rarely disclosing his transgender status to anyone, until he turned up to testify, out of concern for his safety and dignity should this bill pass. They heard from Jean Vermette, who has long toiled on behalf of Maine's trans community. They also heard from Wayne Maines, a dad who relocated his family to another city to protect his daughter from the anti-trans bullying and harassment she endured in her middle school. As the first transgender Mainer to testify at the hearing, celebrated author and Colby College professor Jennifer Finney Boylan clearly impacted the committee.

I left the hearing feeling energized and positive about our ability to kill this misguided effort to partially repeal the Maine Human Rights Act. No matter how this turns out we made a proud showing before our legislators. I was struck by the beauty of our community, by the eloquence of colleagues and friends, and moved by the rightness of our position.

For nearly six years, trans people throughout Maine have been protected by state laws. I am convinced that those protections have ensured that some hard-working transgender people have been able to get and retain jobs they otherwise would not have. I have no doubt that the laws have ensured that transgender youth could remain in school when they previously would not have. And I am certain it has enabled some transgender people who previously had avoided restaurants and other public places for fear of being discriminated against to go to them and regularize their daily lives. Given the history of discrimination we have faced, we need full and trans-specific civil rights protections without exceptions or exclusions to even begin getting to a place of inclusion, much less acceptance and support.

For the second time in less than a month, I had the chance to testify before legislators about the importance of respecting the humanity of transgender people’s lives. I am happy to field the questions that some will only ask if they feel safe enough to voice their uncertainty and reveal their ignorance (and I mean this to be descriptive, not judgmental) of our lives.

The more I hear the questions, the more confident I am in our answers: First, nobody transitions as a lark or to cause mischief (whether in bathrooms or elsewhere). A person’s gender identity is well-established at a very early age (not changeable or susceptible to any kind of so-called reparative therapy). If we don’t support our young people, they are at great risk of physical and psychological harm. And finally, so-called “biological rules” are impossible to police in any non-discriminatory way and, regardless, are insupportable by medical standards or science -- which increasingly recognize gender identity or brain sex as the only true determinant of a person’s sex.

The four-plus hour hearing in Maine is part of the educational arc we must draw to protect advances in this social justice movement. No matter how many repeal efforts we face (and this effort in Maine is an important reminder that the passage of trans-inclusive laws marks only the end of the beginning of our work), we cannot help but continue to move forward in our effort for full inclusion of transgender people in our society. We are human, our lives are worthy of respect and dignity and together, along with our friends and allies, we will convince even those to whom our lives and truths are new that we are their brothers and sisters.

View YouTube video of Jennifer testifying at the hearing here. Her testimony begins around the 47-minute mark.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fighting For Our Rights Shows Our 'True Colors'

Guest post from GLAD Public Education Intern Alison Kane

As a passionate film student, I am eager to jump at any chance I have to be on set. So, when Amanda at GLAD approached me to help out on April 1st & 2nd’s LGBTQ youth rights shoot, “no” was the farthest thing from my mind.

Going into the shoot, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I know how to turn on a camera; I’ve fetched coffee for many a director; and I know the basic lighting skills. However, every time on set is an opportunity to learn more. Going into this project, I didn’t know the director or the actors, unlike most of the student films I have been involved with in the past. Anything could happen. That, for me, was thrilling.

On Friday evening, after rushing into a part of Boston unknown to me after a day’s worth of classes, I finally arrived at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA). There, I was introduced to Evelyn and the actors from True Colors Out Youth Theater, the youth troupe at the Theater Offensive. Earlier in the week, the youth had collaborated on a script explaining the rights of LGBTQ students in Massachusetts public schools, hashing through the legal jargon to create a straightforward script in their own words. In pairs, the young actors took turns reading the script as Seth, the director, listened in on their individual rehearsals. Though everyone was reading the same script, there were six different stories in those words. Hearing the different voices, different inflections, different ways of empathizing, only got me more excited for the real shoot the next morning.

After the acting exercises, we joined together again to discuss the true stories behind the words in the script. These youth, ranging from sixteen to twenty, each had experienced bullying throughout their time at school. For the most part, the school administration had not addressed the issues and instead they were left to fend for themselves, though luckily, most had a strong base of friends and supporters to help them through. While these stories tore at my heartstrings, they also got me riled up, as they did most of the actors. After someone shared a story, it led to a passionate discussion about what we would have done in that situation or how it should have been handled, but unfortunately wasn’t. Though I was there as another pair of hands, these youth were my age and in that moment, though I had only known them a couple hours, I felt bonded with them in fighting for equality.

The next morning, I arrived back at the BCA at nine a.m. Running on little sleep after crashing on a friend’s couch in the city, I was much in need of a caffeine fix. However, I am no stranger to early morning shoots. Seth had arrived with Josh, his production assistant, and a sedan packed to the brim with equipment. I helped unload the car and lug everything up four stories of a winding staircase to the True Colors rehearsal room. Away from my bubble at school, I learned a lot from simply watching Seth and Josh setup. Most of the equipment was familiar, but I was intrigued by some of the new contraptions Seth had brought along, and learned some tricks I tucked away for my next personal film projects.

Noon rolled around and the True Colors actors were ready for camera. While most of them are seasoned veterans on stage, many have not spent much time on camera. It was amazing watching Seth pull sincere and energetic performances from the actors. However, what was most exciting was seeing the deliveries from the actors once they got warmed up. Ranging from sweet and sympathetic Julia to energetic Anzel to fiery Emma, the same script was read six times, but it never sounded the same. Each personality colored the script in a unique way. Each actor had about a thirty minutes session on camera, going over the script numerous times. While that can be an exhausting task for any actor, the True Colors youth were putting their whole being into their performance. As the day went on, I had heard the script at least thirty times, but it never got old.

As we all helped pack up Seth’s equipment, the bonding that had begun the previous night continued. We had just finished a lengthy day of shooting, but everyone knew we had completed something meaningful and amazing. Some of us exchanged contact information, hoping to meet up again soon. The excitement was present in everyone involved. This video would be shown at youth workshops, and distributed online, hopefully reaching students across the state. I could only imagine some scared and lonely high schooler stumbling across this video and feeling empowered after hearing his rights explained to him from his peers.

With the camera packed away and everyone ready to head home, we bid farewell and went our separate ways. However, the pride of a job well done and the impact of the project we had completed were instilled in all of us. The experience of that weekend will stick with me for a long time. Beyond simply the technical skills, I was fortunate enough to work with some very talented individuals. Their energy surrounding this project is contagious just remembering it. It’s projects like this, and youth like those from True Colors that make the biggest of differences in the end.

The video will premiere April 27 & 28 at two free workshops GLAD is hosting for MA LGBTQ students

Friday, April 8, 2011

Know Your Rights: Why Can’t I Get My Spouse On My Company’s Health Plan?

Many companies provide health benefits to the spouses of their employees. So, most people assume that if a same-sex couple marries and lives in a place that recognizes the marriage that their spouse will be entitled to the same health benefits that a different-sex spouse is entitled to. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

The reason is fairly complex, but basically it has to do with whether the company’s health plan is insured (the company pays a premium for each health plan to an insurance company) or the plan is self-insured or self-funded (which means that the company directly pays the health expenses that are incurred under the plan). The only way to tell whether your company’s plan is insured or self-insured is to obtain a copy of the plan or speak to your HR person, because even companies with self-insured plans often hire an insurance company to manage their paperwork.

With insured plans, usually the state’s insurance laws apply to the plan, and so in places that recognize the marriage, the company and health plan are required to treat same-sex spouses the same way they treat different-sex spouses.

Self-insured plans, however, are regulated by a federal agency, ERISA, which sets minimum standards that employers must meet. Because of DOMA, ERISA does not require employers to treat same-sex spouses the same way it does different-sex spouses, and so with self-insured plans employers can legally discriminate against same-sex spouses and not allow them to get on the health plan.

It is important to understand though that ERISA does not PREVENT employers from offering the same benefits to same-sex spouses. If the benefit is denied, it is because the employer is deliberately choosing to discriminate against its same-sex married couples. Also, sometimes even with self-insured plans, the definition of spouse may legally require that same-sex spouses be covered. So if you are denied spousal coverage, call GLAD’s Legal InfoLine. We can arm you with information that may persuade your company to provide coverage.

Even if a same-sex spouse is allowed on the other spouse’s health plan, DOMA steps in with another example of discrimination. Employer benefits to different-sex spouse are tax free, but since the federal government does not recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, any benefit the employer offers to a same-sex spouse gets considered as extra income to the employee (called imputed income) and gets taxed by the federal government. However, in places that recognize the marriage there is no state tax.

If DOMA goes away, both these forms of discrimination would disappear. There is more detailed information about this at www.glad.org. If you have any questions about this blog or any other legal question, contact GLAD’s Legal InfoLine at 800-455-GLAD (4523).

Friday, April 1, 2011

GLADHour: Trans Rights with a (Twitter) Twist

Wednesday night presented GLAD fans with two great choices: head to Cambridge for MIT’s panel discussion “The Future of Marriage,” featuring our own Mary Bonauto and other experts, or stop by Lir, the Boston pub that hosted “GLADHour,” a social event where Jennifer Levi, the director of our Transgender Rights Project (TRP), gave an informative and inspiring update on GLAD’s trans advocacy work. I chose the latter event, and it was an awesome night, despite an interesting Twitter twist – but more on that later.

About 110 guests crowded into the upstairs bar at Lir, located on Boylston Street, among them Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who stopped by after reading about GLADHour in Bay Windows. Councilor Pressley recently co-sponsored a resolution calling on the legislature to pass the Transgender Equal Rights Bill, on which GLAD is working diligently to pass as part of the Transgender Equal Rights Coalition.

Wednesday’s GLADHour was hosted by board member Dana Zircher, a Microsoft software tech and one of the stars of our educational video “Everyone Matters: Dignity and Safety for Transgender People.” Dana introduced “the fabulous” Jennifer Levi, who took the mic and immediately noted, “I’m just blown away by the turnout here tonight.”

“I don’t know if it’s the downtown bar, free food, Dana, me or GLAD,” she added, “but either way I’m just glad to see everybody here.”

She then went on to reflect on her recent testimony in favor of a transgender nondiscrimination bill in Connecticut, where she fielded an hour’s worth of questions from state legislators. “[It] was a really intense experience,” she told the crowd, “because it was one of the times that I really thought about the fact that I had to take the discussion to a very personal level because the questions that I was being asked about bringing non-discrimination laws into being in Connecticut, and the ways in which transgender people and gender non-conforming people ‘threaten’ other people, was a personal attack on my life. And I was really proud to stand up on behalf of the community and say we are not a threat, we don’t threaten anyone else’s safety, but the absence of nondiscrimination laws is threatening our safety and we need to get them passed and we need to get them passed now.” That’s not just true for Connecticut, Jennifer added, but it’s also true for Massachusetts and for Maine, where a Republican lawmaker is trying to roll back existing nondiscrimination protections for transgender people.

Jennifer also discussed two recent TRP legal victories – the first in Adams v. Bureau of Prisons, a suit that challenged the federal Bureau of Prisons policy prohibiting medical care for transgender inmates who entered the BOP system without a treatment plan for transition. GLAD won the right of our client, Vanessa Adams, to receive life-saving transition-related care that was previously denied because she was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder post-incarceration.

The second victory is Freeman v. Denny’s, where we represented Brianna Freeman, a transgender woman who was barred from using the women’s restroom at a Denny’s franchise in Maine, despite the state’s trans-inclusive non-discrimination laws. GLAD is nearing final resolution in that case, but Jennifer made clear that Denny’s has agreed to allow Brianna to use the women's restroom. “[It] is the right outcome,” she said, “and again, we can’t back down from the full comprehensive protections under the law.” Which leads me to that Twitter twist I mentioned earlier. I tweeted Jennifer’s comments about the Freeman victory, much to the delight, apparently, of the potty-minded folks over at the Family Research Council. Peter Sprigg, FRC’s senior fellow for policy studies, re-tweeted my comment prefaced with one of his own, which you can see here:

It was hard to know whether to respond, not because we don’t have plenty to say when opponents of LGBT equality try to distract focus from the real issues with false assertions, but really, why get into it with FRC? But lawyers always want the last word, so Jennifer tweeted a reply: “Yes, non-discrimination laws ensure that transgender people can use essential facilities like bathrooms.”

Additionally, in typical lawyerly fashion, Jennifer couldn’t limit her reply to 140 characters. Here’s her 629-character response, which pretty much sums up the true motivations behind FRC’s potty-talk:

“Yes, non-discrimination laws ensure that transgender people can use essential facilities like bathrooms. The alternative – keeping us out – is cruel. BUT let this be unmistakable, at the heart of such laws are protections to ensure that transgender people can work, go to school, and get housing – in short, to be able to provide for ourselves and for our families. Don't
doubt that those who oppose such protections, who flippantly characterize them as ‘bathroom bills,’ want to keep transgender people out of the boardrooms, shopping aisles, and movie theatres, as much or more than they want to keep us out of bathrooms.”