Saturday, December 1, 2012

World AIDS Day: 25 Years Later

The following World AIDS Day essay was written by our intern Tabias. 

Tomorrow millions will take note of the symbolic World AIDS Day. Each year for the past twenty five years, communities across the globe have stood together to observe the progress that has been made and the work that is yet to be done in the journey toward eradication of HIV and AIDS. Over the years we have seen remarkable progress. We have gone from watching in horror as many of our loved ones mysteriously fell to the stigmatized “Gay Related Immunodefiency Disease”, to lifesaving and life altering medications like AZT to HIV becoming what many now call, a maneagable chronic illness. Many lucky folks, like myself, are able to survive by taking a once a day, one pill regimen that will ultimately lead for many us to become “undetectable.” These new medications, while still wreaking particular havoc on our bodies, are a far cry from where we were years ago, where medications often caused cancers and other very serious illnesses. POZ people around the globe, those with access to proper medication and treatment, can now expect to live normal lifespans. This is indeed amazing! However, none of this came without costs. Those of us who are the Generation Y of HIV, owe a great deal of gratitude to those who came, protested and died before us. We owe particularly thanks to the black, brown and white activists associated with groups like ACT OUT! who made it their mission to gain life for our community, or die trying.
While we’ve come a mighty long way, life isn’t quite peaches and cream. Forty five states in the US have laws criminalizing sex for those who do not disclose their HIV status to each sexual partner. Many of these states do not require transmission for these laws to take effect, rendering many responsible POZ people felons, and in many cases, sex offenders. These laws generally do not take into account the risk of transmission, the responsibility of the assumed “negative partner” or if condoms were used during sex. This has the effect of both stigmatizing and pathologizing HIV. The logic implicit in these statutes creates an image of POZ men and women, that are sex-crazed and willfully “spreading” HIV willy-nilly. Any cursory glance of recent (and many historical) research would that this reasoning requires a willful suspension of reality. HIV is a disease of poverty, not malice, and we should treat it as such. Criminalization laws reject the notion that POZ folks are human beings entitled to sexual relations and reproductive functions, just like everyone else. While we’ve come a long way in our fight against stigma, those who are POZ are still viewed as a viral underclass by our legal apparatus.
Any post about HIV and World AIDS Day would be remiss without mentioning the fact that HIV is increasingly becoming a disease associated with being black, brown or poor. Research by Dr. David David Malebranche of Emory University has shown that the maldistribution of resources in our country, namely healthcare, socioeconomic status and education, are the primary culprits for transmission vulnerability in these populations. President Obama recently crafted the nations first comprehensive HIV attack plan, and within that document, he specifically targeted minority communities for research, treatment and preventative care. This is the way forward. For the next 25 years we must be committed to making sure that community bears the brunt of the virus, the stigma or the criminalization. For my POZ peers, this means telling our stories and asserting our humanity, at all costs just like those before us. For our family, loved ones, allies and those new to this issue of viral apartheid, we ask you to pledge to listen, speak and work with and for us while always giving us a space at the decision making table. For everyone, regardless of your HIV status, this is a call to be HIV neutral. We can longer divide our social or romantic endeavors based upon HIV status, but instead, we must endeavor to have direct, frank and open conversations so that our lives will be more fulfilled and that we made create a safer world for our loved ones. Let the next 25 years be years without stigma, without shame and full of love.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Making History: Mainers Said Yes to Real Values

 by Carisa Cunningham, GLAD Director of Public Affairs and Education

I'm still carrying my Yes On 1 election night badge with me!
Although I have wandered a few election night ballrooms in my life, I have never been on the inside of a campaign night – watching returns in a boiler room, biting fingernails, eating fried food – until last Tuesday night.

At the Holiday Inn in Portland, I nervously awaited the result of the Maine ballot question on marriage equality with my fellow executive committee members – folks from the ACLU, EqualityMaine and MaineWomen’s Lobby I’ve worked with for years, through good times and bad, to get to this day

Friday, October 19, 2012

What color T-shirt are you wearing tomorrow?

By Laura Kiritsy and Ben Klein
Today, folks across the country are wearing purple clothing and tinting their social media profile pictures with similar hues to mark Spirit Day, a day for people to stand up against bullying and to show their support for LGBTQ youth. Spirit Day is a great way to raise awareness of the scourge of bullying and the way in which it disproportionately affects queer youth.  But we have been asking ourselves this week, “What more should we be doing for LGBTQ youth?” and “What more can we ask our allies to do?” Let’s not shy away from taking advantage of these awareness days to demand support for tangible changes that will really make the world a safer, more affirming place for LGBTQ youth.

That’s not to say that we don’t have the Spirit Day spirit. Here at GLAD, a group of purple-clad colleagues gathered for the picture that now graces ourFacebook profile page. Our FB and Twitter icons are purple. And we’re proud to say that we put our spirit into action every day in an effort to make the world a safer, more affirming place for LGBTQ youth, whether it be
litigating on behalf of a transgender girl who was discriminated against at her school or educating students about their legal rights as LGBTQ people, to cite just a couple of recent examples.

Bullying is a widespread problem with tragic consequences, as we have seen with the painful suicides of too many young people like Carl Walker-Hoover (who lived in Massachusetts), Asher Brown and Tyler Clementi. And at this point, it’s safe to say that support for curbing school bullying is a mainstream position. All of the major sports leagues –including NASCAR -- have “gone purple” today. The
iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign” has been turned purple along with the Duke Energy Tower in Charlotte, North Carolina, the New York Stock Exchange, Thomson Reuters’ Times Square screen, the LAX Pylon Lights and JFK Airport traffic tower. The list of celebrity purple people is endless. (Yes, we’re well aware of the right-wing cranks that see anti-bullying efforts as veiled attempts to promote the dreaded “homosexual agenda,” but they’re being pushed to the fringe, as CNN anchor Christine Costello’s recent interview with the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer clearly demonstrates.)

If we’re really intent on creating a better world for LGBTQ youth we should be raising awareness of a whole spectrum of issues that affect them.  Here are some issues that we think are just as important:

What are your ideas for raising the bar on supporting our young people?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

‘Transgender Exceptionalism’ in the Kosilek Case

The online legal publication JURIST published a very thoughtful piece by Jennifer Levi, the director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project, on the recent ruling in the case of Michelle Kosilek, a transgender inmate who has long sought treatment within the Massachusetts Department of Corrections for her Gender Identity Disorder. A recent ruling in her favor generated an angry outcry from politicians and the public who don’t believe a convicted murderer should be receiving sex reassignment surgery at taxpayer expense.

Jennifer argues that no matter the controversy, there is no place in our system of laws for “transgender exceptionalism.” As she writes:
Properly understood, this case is not about the legitimacy of medical care for transgender people or the baseline of care that has to be provided to prisoners to ensure that we retain our position as a civilized society. Indeed, the Commonwealth itself has publicly disclaimed any challenge to the underlying legitimacy of the condition of GID or the need for its care and treatment in the prison setting. 
Rather the case asked and answered a question about whether the court would allow "transgender exceptionalism," by which I mean whether the court would allow a government official to ignore every established rule or policy simply because the person to whom the rules or policies would apply happened to be transgender.
I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read Jennifer’s piece. I guarantee it’s more informative than all of the thousands of news pieces that have been generated in the wake of the ruling combined.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Very Queer Story: Reflections on LGBT History Month

This post was penned by Tabias, one of our fabulous interns

When thinking about the meaning of “LGBTHistory Month,” as with other designated months (Black History Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, etc), I almost always have the same gut reaction. This has less to do with the successes of these individual groups, many of which I proudly belong to, than it does with the idea that our histories and triumphs exist in a vacuum, independent of each other. Our siloed months of celebrations leave unsuspecting celebrants to believe that there are quite distinct communities in this nation when, in fact, our triumphs and our identities have always intersected. Deep within our souls we all know that LGBT History Month has always been Black History Month, just as it has and will always be Native American Heritage Month, Women’s History Month and so forth. My point here is that in our zeal to identify primarily, or at least visibly, with particular portions of our identity we must always remember that our identities form and reform each other in particular, known and unknown ways. We must remember that our greatest call in life is not simply to love each other, but to recognize the complexities of living, being human, and loving through the (mis)understandings. Our greatest, most confounding strengths lay in our diversity of experiences, traditions and ways of knowing.

Now that I’ve said all this, let us celebrate how far we’ve come.

Congratulations to Ben Klein: Our (First) Supreme Court Victor

Guest post from Carisa Cunningham, Director of Public Affairs and Education, who joined AIDS Law Project Director Ben Klein at the AIDS Project Worcester 25th Anniversary dinner on October 4.

AIDS Project Worcester celebrated their 25th anniversary last night with a lovely dinner at the College of the Holy Cross.  Attendees remembered APW Executive Director Joe McKee, who died in April, and honored those who continue Joe's work.  Among the honorees was GLAD's own  AIDS Law Project Director Ben Klein, who received the Outstanding Advocate Red Ribbon Award.

The award marked Ben's many accomplishments advocating on behalf of people with HIV, not the least of which was his Supreme Court win in Bragdon v. Abbott, establishing that people with HIV are protected from discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ben is extremely modest, but there is always a little intake of breath in a room when people are told - or reminded - that he is a Supreme Court victor.

Congratulations, Ben!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Another Victory in the Fight for Fairness for Our Families

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’d like to draw your attention to a great ruling issued last Friday by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in our case A.E.H v. M.R.

This case was yet another example of a bad breakup between a same-sex couple where one of the estranged spouses attempted to rewrite their family history in order deprive our client of a relationship with one of her two daughters. Those of you familiar with this blog might know I have strong feelings about people who try to wield our country’s woefully inconsistent – or nonexistent, in many places – state laws governing the recognition of LGBT familial relationships for their own gain in custody disputes. Fortunately, at least here in Massachusetts, such behavior is increasingly becoming legally out of bounds.
GLAD represented A.E.H., who entered into a registered domestic partnership (RDP) in California with M.R. in 2003. The couple agreed to conceive and co-parent children together, and they later moved from California to the east coast when M.R. was pregnant with their eldest child, J. J. was born while the couple lived in Massachusetts, and M.R. and A.E.H. were equal co-parents, acting as a family in every way. The couple decided to expand their family, and A.E.H. became pregnant with their second child, M. During A.E.H.’s pregnancy, M.R. took J. to Oregon under false pretenses and severed all contact between J. and our client.

California RDPs offer all of the benefits, protections and obligations of marriage in that state. That means that both parties in an RDP are the legal parents to any children born into that relationship. Despite that reality, M.R attempted to make the case that our client was not a legal parent to J. because their RDP is not equivalent to marriage in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Probate and Family Court, however, appropriately recognized both women as legal parents to the children.

The trial judge then determined that awarding physical custody of both children to A.E.H. was in the children’s best interest, citing M.R.’s disruption of the strong emotional bond A.E.H. had formed with J. over the course of parenting her from birth until she was 15 months old, at which point M.R. took off out of state with J. The trial judge also noted that M.R. engaged in a pattern of behavior that attempted to alienate J. from A.E.H., such as prohibiting contact between the two until court-ordered to do so, telling J. that A.E.H. was not her parent, but rather a friend; and asking the court to order that A.E.H. not refer to herself as “mommy” during web chats with her daughter. The Probate and Family Court also found that A.E.H. provided more stability to J. than M., noting that when M.R. moved out of state with J., the child lived in four different homes in less than a year and had “no less than five different care providers.”

M.R. appealed the ruling to the SJC and continued to argue that Massachusetts should not recognize their California domestic partnership, and as such she should retain sole custody of the older child she birthed and have no parental responsibility for the younger child that A.E.H. birthed.

Well, not quite. In a unanimous decision, the SJC declared that the Probate and Family Court did not err when it determined that a California RDP was the equivalent to marriage in Massachusetts and that both our client and M.R. were the legal parents to both J. and M. under California and Massachusetts law. “Because the parties to California RDPs have rights and responsibilities identical to those of marriage,” the Court stated, it is proper to treat “the parties’ RDP as equivalent to marriage in the Commonwealth.” (In doing so, the SJC referenced another recent case of ours, Elia-Warnken v. Elia, in which the Court ruled that Massachusetts must recognize civil unions as equivalent to marriage.)

If you’re familiar with my other posts on these types of cases, you know how this one’s going to end: with my plug for the publication Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families , a collaborative effort between national and local LGBT organizations spearheaded by GLAD. The standards are a set of 10 guidelines that aim to remind LGBT people how important it is to legally protect the families they create and to caution parents against wielding anti-LGBT laws and other legal loopholes against their partner should their relationship break up. Until our families are uniformly recognized, respected and protected in every state in our country, sometimes the best we can do is to urge our community to fight fair. We know breaking up is hard to do (that’s the title of Standard #6, as a matter of fact). For the sake of the children involved, it should at least be fair, and reflect the reality of our lives and our relationships.

Oh and one last thing – shout outs to former GLAD Senior Attorney Karen Loewy, who expertly argued this case before the SJC back in May, and Polly Crozier of Kauffman Crozier LLP, who tried the case and served as co-counsel on appeal. Congratulations on an important victory!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Kickin' It Old School -- and New School -- in DC

A must-read post from my colleague Maryse Pearce (who is the third person to the right of the Vice President in the photo below) who attended a BBQ for emerging LGBT leaders hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden in DC last week. Maryse has a great eye for detail.
My day in DC began with an LGBT policy roundtable. The 150 other “emerging LGBT leaders” and I were welcomed by Gautam Raghavan, Associate Director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement, and John Berry, Director of the US Office of Personnel Management and the highest ranking openly gay person in Obama’s administration. Berry thanked us all for the work we had done for LGBT people, and said he wouldn’t be surprised if a future president was sitting in the room. “And I’m sure he or she—“

“Or they!” someone called out.

“—will be great,” Berry finished. We are leaders of the new school, indeed.

The morning’s roundtable consisted of 3 panels: “LGBT Rights Are Human Rights” (title taken from Secretary of State Clinton’s speech last November), which talked about the US role promoting LGBT rights abroad; a legal update; and a discussion of health and safety issues for LGBTQ youth.

One of my favorite moments of the day, though, came not from the official panel, but from another attendee. In between panels, 10 minutes were set aside so that the attendees could stand up and give an “elevator pitch” about what they were working on, and ask for help or advice if they needed it. I stood up to say that if people were interested in following DOMA’s downfall, they should follow GLAD’s facebook and twitter updates. A few minutes later, someone from Montana stood up to ask for advice on rural organizing.

“And I just want to say, I’m so happy single-A GLAD is here,” he said. “We use your ‘Everyone Matters’ [transgender rights] video, and it’s really helped.”

That completely made my day. In Public Affairs, we create and distribute educational materials all the time, and it’s amazing to get feedback and thanks, especially from someone from the other side of the country.
In the afternoon, we had time to ourselves. I visited a friend who works at the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute, learned a little about their upcoming events, and toured their office.

Next, I went to a Senate Hearing on Hate Crimes and Domestic Extremism, at the invitation of Ben de Guzman from the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance. The focus of the hearing was Muslim and Sikh Americans, who have increasingly been the target of domestic terrorism. Politicians and law professors from both sides of the aisle argued about the benefits and limitations of hate crime laws, but the most moving testimony was from a young man whose mother was murdered while worshipping at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. 

Finally, it was time for the main event: the LGBTQ BBQ at the VP’s house. 30 minutes and 3 security checkpoints later, my colleague Allison Wright and I made it through Biden’s Naval Observatory compound, and into the backyard of his huge house. It was lucky I got in late: I was standing by the entrance when someone official asked me to move aside; Biden was about to enter. Naturally, I did not move over, and a moment later, Joe and Dr. Jill B walked by me!

The Vice President and his wife were introduced by a West Point graduate, who thanked their administration for all they’ve done for LGBT people, including ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which was repealed exactly a year ago. Dr. and Vice President Biden both spoke about how they have always known and supported LGBT people, and how they see full LGBT equality as the inevitable next step in US civil rights – echoing Michelle Obama’s DNC remarks. “Don’t thank me,” Biden said, getting choked up. “I should be thanking you for all you’ve done, and all the courage you’ve shown.”

When he was done speaking, Biden simply stepped away from the podium. After a moment of hesitation, the crowd surged around him, shaking his hand and taking pictures. I was one person away from Biden when his handlers intervened and asked us to form a line for pictures. The woman who was in the middle of asking him for a picture, a West Point lesbian in a navy blazer, got the Biden treatment: he put one hand on her shoulder and touched her cheek with the other hand, saying, “I’ll follow you. You look like you know what’s going on!”

I took a group picture with the Vice President and several other of the emerging leaders. After the picture was snapped, Biden shook everyone’s hand and asked them where they were from. When it was my turn, I ignored his hand and went in for a hug, which he returned tightly. And then I was moved along, so the next group could have their picture taken.

If you can believe it, the night got better from there. While on my way to get food, I did a double take: Mara Keisling, founding executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, was standing by the pool! She saw me staring at her, and paused her conversation to say hello to me.

“You’ve been one of my heroes for years!” I said after I introduced myself.

“Oh, that’s terrible,” she chided. We spoke for a few minutes, the conversation peppered with Mara’s self-deprecating humor. On my way to get a glass of wine later, I walked by another woman I deeply admire: Janet Mock. I told her how honored I was to meet her, and how excited I was to hear her speak at the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition’s Boston Youth Empowerment Conference in October.

I spent the rest of the night talking with other emerging leaders: someone who fights for trans-inclusive shelters for victims of domestic violence; someone who leads workshops on transgender issues for the DC police; someone who does HIV education in North Carolina; someone from St Louis who mixes politics into her art. I wanted to talk about GLAD’s work (which I did, of course), but everyone had such amazing stories and was doing such incredible things, I could have been content to just listen all night.

At 8:30, I got into a cab with the artist from St Louis, headed back to the center of DC. A man who also needed to go to Union Station hopped into the front seat. After he introduced himself, I realized that “Kevin” was Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, and former ED of GLAD. We chatted about GLAD lawyers and our respective DOMA cases, and when we got to Union Station, he generously paid for the cab, saying it was his treat as we were in “Lambda territory.”

In short, it was an amazing day spent with both luminaries in the fight for full LGBT equality, and the new school of leaders.