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.