Friday, May 20, 2011

A Moment of Celebration in Connecticut

Jennifer Levi with CT Rep Gary Holder-Winfield,
a vocal supporter of the transgender non-discrimination bill

Post by Jennifer Levi, GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director


I don’t know how else to describe how I felt. Last night, after five-and-a-half excruciating hours of hearing the Connecticut House of Representatives debate the value of transgender people’s lives and whether we are worthy of the law’s protections, the chamber voted on HB 6599, a transgender non-discrimination bill. I ran upstairs to the viewing gallery to try to count votes being cast and projected up on the board. I knew we had to get to 76.

About three hours earlier, we had narrowly defeated a bathroom amendment that would have carved out exclusion from the law’s protection for transgender people in bathrooms (Don’t they know we have to go, too?). That vote was 62-65. We needed more than 65 to get this bill passed. Way more. Eleven doesn’t mean much in cents, but it’s a big lift, a huge lift, in votes. I didn’t know how many we’d get on the bill, now up for a vote. I started to count.

There had been a huge volume of floor speeches in opposition to the bill over the last five-plus hours. Frankly, it made me slightly nauseous to hear so many legislators speak so candidly about their discomfort with the bill and transgender people. For six years, the community has been working on this bill, bravely speaking openly about our lives and trying to educate anyone willing to listen.

Finally, the speeches in support of the bill came. Representative Richard Roy of Milford spoke. I wasn’t sure as he began whether he was speaking in support or in opposition to the bill. Suddenly, I heard these moving words about an experience in his family of a cousin who had recently transitioned from male to female. He talked about the compassion he had for someone he loved whose experience he may not have understood but for whom his love and admiration had remained steadfast. He said he had to support the bill. That he’d be a hypocrite if he voted in opposition knowing how brave and courageous this family member had been sharing her experience of transition in an exchange of Christmas cards. I dared to be slightly hopeful about the prospects of passage.

Then Representative Kim Fawcett began to speak. She is a Democrat but had not been a supporter of marriage equality. The issues are, obviously, very different but it has become hard to imagine that legislators who are not yet there on LGB equality issues could support trans rights. Representative Fawcett is a member of an evangelical church. She said that her remarks would be framed by her perspective – WWJD. WWJD? I wondered what she meant by that. She explained that she is guided by the question, What Would Jesus Do? Quickly, she answered – guided by this frame, she strongly supported the bill.

It was late. I had been sitting on a bench outside of the House chamber, passing notes to legislative aides, speaking to government officials, lobbyists, and supporters since arriving at the State House at 1:30 that afternoon. It was close to 11 p.m. I needed a cookie. I told one of our lobbyists, Betty Gallo (who had let me pick the chicken off her cobb salad for my dinner), that I was going to go to the vending machine for a cookie. I was reachable by text, by phone, by a shout down the halls. She said, “No, don’t go.” The majority leader was speaking in support of the bill. Nobody typically speaks after that and the vote would be called. I thought maybe I could still get to the vending machine and back in time.

Then, I heard the bell sound for a vote. I raced upstairs to the gallery so I could see the board, see the representatives casting their votes. I tried to count green dots and red dots but got lost among them. Then I heard the clerk announce the final tally. Seventy-seven in favor. Sixty-two opposed. I could hardly let myself believe it. For the first time since it was introduced six years ago, we had moved the bill through the House.

Much work remains. That I knew (and still know). We’ve still got to get it through the Senate and then, of course, secure Gov. Dan Malloy’s signature (he has, though, been a terrific champion on this one). Today I woke up to the education, advocacy, and hard work still needed to make this bill law. But last night, just for a little bit, at least on the half-hour drive home from Hartford to my house in Western Massachusetts, I did a teeny bit of celebrating. Hooray.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Just the Facts, Maggie

Mary L. Bonauto Speaking at a Washington, D.C. Press
Conference on DOMA Repeal Legislation, March 2011

Post by Mary L. Bonauto, GLAD Civil Rights Project Director

When the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Constitution held an April 15 hearing called “Defending Marriage,” we knew it would not be a friendly forum. Although the focus of the hearing was on the Justice Department’s decision not to defend DOMA, Chairman Trent Franks called Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage as the principal witness rather than anyone from the Department of Justice.

Ms. Gallagher’s written testimony begged for a written response, and GLAD submitted its rebuttal last week, which will now be entered into the Congressional Record. GLAD responds point by point to Gallagher’s fictitious assertions about marriage, procreation, Catholic Charities and other talking points, some of which are simply fictitious, and all of which fail to justify DOMA’s singling out of married same-sex couples for different treatment by the federal government.

See GLAD’s Rebuttal, with attachments, and the testimony of Gallagher as well as Ed Whelan (the two majority witnesses) and Professor Carlos Ball (the minority witness).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I Was Smiling Inside All the Way Home

Editor’s Note: Please enjoy this inspiring guest post from Wayne, the father of Nicole, a transgender teen GLAD is representing in her fight against harassment and bullying in school. They are quickly becoming influential advocates for Maine’s transgender community, and you will understand why after you read this.

Nicole and I had a very special day on Friday, May 13. My wife Kelly and I are so proud of her. Prior to the Joint Standing Judiciary Committee’s vote on LD 1046, a bill to repeal part of the Maine Human Rights Act to prevent transgender people from using appropriate restroom facilities, we were invited to speak to the Democrats on the committee for about 30 minutes before they voted. Nicole did a great job.

When we arrived in Augusta and she saw the capitol building she got very nervous and scared.

“We are going there?” she asked.

I said, “Yes that is where all of the laws are promulgated and passed into law. Don’t worry, I will be with you and just remember to just be yourself and everyone will love you.”

We parked and walked into the lobby to wait for GLAD attorneys Jennifer Levi and Janson Wu and a couple of lobbyists. Nicole went to the restroom while we were waiting and after about 20 minutes I asked Jennifer to check on her. She was in a great deal of pain from a nervous stomach. After another five minutes I went in to tell her we had to go. She came out looking pretty bad; I was ready to pull the plug. She said she still wanted to go, so we went to our meeting.

I started to tell our story and quickly suggested they ask Nicole what she experienced and how she felt. She had the lawmakers’ full attention. She talked about the good times, what it was like to be a young, out transgender child and how it quickly changed. She talked about the bullying and harassment that she has experienced. She talked about why trans kids only want to go to the bathroom and visit with their friends and why it would be so harmful for trans kids if this bill were to pass. She explained that she currently uses the girl’s bathroom and locker room at her current school without any problems. She ended with explaining how hard it was to have to be stealth, to have her dad live in another town, and how difficult it was to understand what adults were so afraid of, when her peers have no problems with trans kids.

What a rewarding experience to see her finally have a voice. As she talked she became more and more confident and I became more and more proud of her. I could not help think that this might help make up for some of the pain and abuse that she has had to endure.

We went to the work session to wait for the committee vote. We were pulled out a number of times to talk to other key leaders. She did a great job every time. At the end of the day, the vote was 8-5 that LD 1046 "ought not to pass." I believe that Nicole helped move votes in our favor.

She told Jennifer that it was one of the best days of her life – she got to miss school, the vote was favorable, and she got a Snickers bar.

We walked out of the capitol building holding hands, and she smiled and said, “Daddy maybe I should be an attorney like Jennifer, or governor to help make sure we help people.”

I smiled and said, “Sweetie, you can do anything you want. You are a special girl and all you have to do is work hard and never give up.” She stopped and said, “I love you Daddy.” I was ready to cry, but I had promised her I would not cry that day.

We got in the car and she immediately fell asleep. I do not think either one of us slept the night before. As we were driving home, I thought maybe what we are going through is meant to be, maybe this experience will provide her with the energy, the resolve and the motivation to do great things. I was smiling inside all the way home. As I started to calm down and reflected on the morning’s events, I reminded myself that Nicole is still a little girl who will have many hopes and dreams and my job is to make sure she has a chance to explore the many options before her. In the end I just want her to be a happy and well-adjusted young adult who has the confidence and basic skills to do whatever she wants to do with her life. As we rolled into into our driveway I felt good, relaxed and hopeful.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Another GSA is Born

Post by GLAD Attorney Vickie L. Henry

I recently received the exciting news that we had helped a high school student and his friends in Maine form a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). I would have been happy to sue to found a GSA but it was just as satisfying to persuade the school to do the right thing because it was right for the school. Indeed, GLAD does a lot of work behind the scenes.

GSAs are a fun "case" for GLAD because the law is so good. If requested, just about every school has to permit a GSA. But that does not always mean school officials will quickly or easily approve a GSA. That's where we enter, behind the scenes or publicly as counsel for the students.

Generally speaking (lawyer-speak meaning there are limited exceptions), the Equal Access Act requires a public high school that allows any non-curriculum student group to meet on school grounds to also allow other student groups the same access to the school, including a GSA.

School officials have gotten creative across the country to avoid a GSA but the law is so broad that in nearly every case, the courts have supported the GSA. Some school officials try to stall a GSA, particularly if a senior is involved, because maybe the request will graduate with the senior. So having a younger proponent is helpful. Others try to change the name of the group, which is not permissible. Still others have actually eliminated all non-curriculum groups but that failed - you can just found a curriculum-related club to discuss a subject - say history - from an LGBTQ perspective. Still others have objected with a claim that a GSA would be disruptive. But the law protects the right to form a GSA as long as the GSA itself (versus those who don't like the idea of a GSA) is not causing the disruption.

I want to give a big shout out to the parent helping her child in this case. She went toe-to-toe with the school addressing its concerns and demonstrated - politely but relentlessly - that a GSA would be good for her child and for the school.

One more GSA approved. Today we have one more community where high school kids have an oasis of acceptance and support. Raise your glass (non-alcoholic of course; they're minors).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Students, parents and teachers: GLAD’s Legal InfoLine wants to hear from you!

GLAD’s Legal InfoLine is free and confidential. That means that if you call the InfoLine nothing will be shared with your parents, school or anyone else unless you specifically gives us permission to do so. You can reach the InfoLine by phone, live chat or email—just go to and click on “Contact the InfoLine.”

GLAD has always been involved in youth issues and over the years has won a number of important victories, such as:

· winning the right for a student to take his boyfriend to the prom,

· winning the right for students to form a GSA and for the GSA to receive the same treatment and privileges as any other student extracurricular group,

· winning protections for LGBT students who are being harassed and discriminated against,

· winning the right for transgender students to dress in a way that fits their gender identity,

· helping to create and pass strong anti-bullying laws in Massachusetts and New Hampshire,

· and many more.

Currently, some examples of GLAD’s youth work include:

· fighting on behalf of a transgender student who was forced to change schools due to harassment

· helping to get an anti-bullying bill passed in Maine, and

· producing a video about the rights of public school students in Massachusetts—it’s a great video! Take a look at:

Students in all of the New England states have legal protections against harassment, bullying and discrimination, and GLAD is working to strengthen these and make sure that they are enforced. In addition, students have the right to:

· wear clothing that fits your gender identity

· express your point of view and feel safe in doing so, even on controversial topics

· form a Gay/Straight Alliance on the same terms as all other extracurricular student groups.

GLAD has a number of publications that address legal issues pertaining to students and schools at

GLAD wants to do more work in this area and to learn more about the ways in which GLAD’s legal expertise can more effectively address the needs of young people. We encourage students, parents and teachers to call GLAD’s Legal InfoLine if they encounter a situation involving harassment, bullying or discrimination; want to know the rights of students (and teachers) in the six New England states, or want to make suggestions about additional ways in which GLAD can use its legal expertise to address youth issues.

We look forward to hearing from you!