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.