Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fearless, Uncompromising and Creative Advocacy

Janson Wu with Sarah Remes at the ACS National Convention
GLAD Staff Attorney Janson Wu was named the 2012 recipient of the American Constitution Society’s David Carliner Public Interest Award, becoming the first LGBT-identified attorney to receive the honor.

The Carliner Award recognizes “outstanding mid-career public interest lawyers whose work best exemplifies its namesake’s legacy of fearless, uncompromising and creative advocacy on behalf of marginalized people.”

In her presentation of the award  at the ACS National Convention in Washington, D.C. last Saturday, David Carliner's granddaughter Sarah Remes pointed out the many parallels between Janson's work and that of her grandfather:

 Mr. Wu has been a powerful advocate for marriage equality. He led the legislative effort to secure marriage equality in New Hampshire at a time when others believed such a thing was impossible.

In his recommendation, Bishop Gene Robinson wrote, "I now have a husband, not just a 'friend' or partner, because of Janson Wu's efforts in our midst."

Mr. Wu has taken the fight into the courts, where he is a lead member of the team challenging the Defense of Marriage Act. He and his team recently achieved an enormous victory when the First Circuit became the first circuit court to rule that DOMA is unconstitutional.  It is appropriate that Mr. Wu is honored with this award in the name of the person who brought the first interracial marriage case to the Supreme Court in 1956.

Mr. Wu has been a leader for transgender rights. While working on the marriage equality bill in New Hampshire, he insisted that his coalition include the struggles of transgender people.  He led a litigation effort against Denny's in Maine, after the restaurant refused to allow a transgender customer to use the appropriate restroom. Not only did Mr. Wu secure a settlement for his client, but Denny's changed its policies to be welcoming and respectful of all transgender customers.

Mr. Wu also was a key member of a Maine coalition that protected transgender rights against a right-wing attempt to cut them from an anti-discrimination bill. He is the co-author of a chapter in a recently published book, Transgender Family Law: A Guide to EffectiveAdvocacy.

In 1965, my grandfather won the right of gay employees to work for the federal government, and Mr. Wu's work follows in those footsteps.

“I’m humbled to receive this award for doing work that I love, particularly fighting for transgender rights and marriage equality,” Janson says.  “I hope to honor David Carliner’s amazing legacy by fighting for the most disadvantaged and unpopular in our communities, because it’s the right thing to do.”

All of us here at GLAD congratulate Janson on this well-deserved recognition!

Arguing For Respect of Parallel Spousal Statuses

As other states across the country continue to enact civil unions and registered domestic partnerships -- legal statuses for same-sex couples that fall short of full marriage equality -- the question is: what happens when a couple with a civil union or RDP moves to a marriage state like Massachusetts?

GLAD believes Massachusetts should recognize those legal relationships, a position that senior staff attorney Karen Loewy argued persuasively before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on May 8, in the case A.E.H. v. M.R.

“The point of this case,” Karen explains, “is the respect due to parallel spousal statuses, like registered domestic partnerships or civil unions, which provide all of the state-based protections for spouses. Recognizing the status advances Massachusetts’ commitment to equality and honors the intentions of the parties who entered into the status. Most critically, recognition secures the legal status of children and the protections that come from having two legal parents.”

GLAD is representing A.E.H., who entered into a registered domestic partnership 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. A.E.H. conceived their second child, M, and during the pregnancy, M.R. took J to Oregon under false pretenses and severed all contact between J and our client. But the Massachusetts Probate and Family court appropriately recognized both women as legal parents to the children and granted primary physical custody of both children to A.E.H.

M.R. appealed the ruling, and continues 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.

The case is another unfortunate illustration of the way in which estranged same-sex partners sometimes attempt to exploit the lack of uniform legal protections – or the lack of any legal protections at all – to gain the upper hand in relationship dissolution and/or custody proceedings. In an effort to stem this tide, GLAD and other LGBT organizations collaborated on Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families, a set of guidelines urging parents to play fair and to honor the agreements they make with partners for the good of their children.

Read the standards and pledge to uphold them at

We expect the SJC to issue its decision in late summer.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sprinkling Seeds of Trans Equality and Other Tales from Netroots Nation

 Blogging for Transgender Equality panelists Dr. Jillian T. Weiss,
Jos Truitt, Monica Roberts, Autumn Sandeen and Jennifer Levi

It’s true – I chose to spend the Saturday of Boston Pride hanging out at GLAD’s booth in the Netroots Nation exhibition hall, and I liked it. Drag queens, Mardi Gras beads and block parties are great, but who can resist the opportunity to spend the day inside a hotel convention center gazing into the eyes of progressive bloggers from around the country as they peer at you over their open laptops? For me and my colleagues Amanda Johnston and Carisa Cunningham, the hottest ticket around last week was for Netroots Nation 2012 down in Providence, Rhode Island*.

The highlight, of course, was the GLAD-organized panel Blogging for Transgender Equality on Friday morning, the first trans-specific panel in Netroots Nation’s seven-year history. We had a great line-up of panelists: our Transgender Rights Project Director Jennifer Levi; and bloggers Autumn Sandeen, Jos Truitt, Monica Roberts and Jillian Weiss. Jillian was a most excellent moderator for the panel, which was well attended by a crowd that seemed as excited as we were that trans issues were being discussed at Netroots Nation. The discussion was wide ranging and nuanced. For instance, while Jos noted that the mainstream media’s coverage of the transgender community has improved overall, Monica lamented the lack of coverage of trans women of color and their accomplishments. Ultimately, said Jos, the trans community needs to guide the mainstream media to the stories of the community that need to be covered.

The Netroots website has a great page dedicated to our panel, featuring a complete video of the presentation and discussion, panelist bios, and a catalogue of some of the awesome Tweets from folks who attended. See what you missed here. And check out Amanda’s photos from the panel on Facebook (don’t forget to “like” and “share” – this is a social media conference, after all!). So exciting!

My favorite Tweet during the panel was this one, from Netroots conventioneer @nolanpack:
#NN12 Blogging for Transgender Equity - amazing panel! Learning so much!

Yay! That’s why we organized it.

Another great thing about Netroots was the opportunity to meet and hear from some of the community’s most influential bloggers and activists, particularly at the LGBT Connect, a daylong pre-conference that took place last Wednesday, courtesy of online activist guru Mike Rogers. The most interesting portion for me was a panel discussion that featured activists from Florida, Indiana, North Carolina and South Carolina discussing the successes and struggles of LGBT organizing in conservative states. It was an eye opening discussion, and a reminder that despite our community’s gains -- from the recent rulings striking down DOMA to the historic support we have from President Barack Obama -- that in many states LGBT people are still fighting for the most basic legal protections.

We wrapped it up with the LGBT caucus on Saturday morning. I didn’t expect great turnout after Friday night’s numerous festivities, especially since while I was at the coffee bar in the convention a hall, a woman talking on her cell phone noted that a discussion with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman that morning was poorly attended “because everyone’s hungover.” With all due respect to Mr. Krugman, the LGBT caucus was pretty crowded. We even got a visit from Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, a staunch LGBT supporter who addressed the crowd and took a bunch of caucus-goer questions. Given our recent victory in our Gill DOMA lawsuit (which, incidentally, Dahlia Lithwick raised in Friday afternoon’s Big Decisions panel as very likely to be taken up by the Supreme Court next session), I was heartened to hear Sen. Cardin tell the crowd, “I want to repeal DOMA. I want to get it done. Marriage equality is a basic right.”

A nice way to end my visit with the Netroots Nation, and this blog post.

*And anyway, we get another chance to celebrate Pride right there in Providence next weekend, when Rhode Island Pride honors our own attorney Karen Loewy for her years of advocacy in the state. Join us there!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Watch Live: Blogging for Transgender Equality Today at 10:30 a.m.

GLAD's Transgender Rights Project Director Jennifer Levi joins bloggers Monica Roberts, Autumn Sandeen, Jos Truitt and moderator Dr. Jillian T. Weiss for a look at the role of blogging and online advocacy in the movement for transgender equality.

This panel is part of the Netroots Nation 12 conference

You can watch the panel streamed live here starting at 10:30 a.m. EST


Monday, June 4, 2012

Putting the ‘T’ in NeTrooTs


Post by Jennifer L. Levi, GLAD's Transgender Rights Project Director, co-editor of Transgender Family Law and a panelist on Blogging for Transgender Equality at Netroots Nation

Those who know me well will be surprised to find me joining a panel of bloggers at Netroots Nation, an international gathering of progressive online activists. While I am an aspiring tweeter and regularly reflect on my work as director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project here at Equal Justice Under Law, GLAD’s home in the blogosphere, I do the majority of my advocacy on the ground – in the courtroom, at statehouses across New England, at the negotiating table, and in the offices of policy makers and opinion leaders.

That said, the internet has been a powerful organizing tool for the transgender community, and online activism has been central to advancing our movement for transgender equality.
 Nearly fifteen years ago, I struggled to find connection to the transgender community.  I had to fly halfway across the country to Houston, Texas, to attend the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy in order to meet like-minded transgender-identified attorneys.  The trip was well worth it.  There I connected with Phyllis Frye, Shannon Minter, and Stephen Whittle, among others, committed advocates who have done and continue to do foundational work to secure transgender equality.

Today, I can go online and chat with members of my community at the touch of a few keystrokes, learn about our movement’s victories and setbacks, and take immediate action to move the ball forward. I witnessed the power of this online community in 2007 with its swift and strong response to the stripping of gender identity protections from the federal Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA).  Within hours, literally hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals stated their opposition; the bill was refiled in 2009 with the protections intact.
That’s why I’m excited that GLAD has organized Blogging for Transgender Equality: History, Challenges and Progress, the first trans-specific panel we're aware of to be hosted at Netroots Nation.
I’m even more excited about the expertise my co- panelists bring to the discussion scheduled for Friday, June 8 in Ballroom B at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence.

Dr. Jillian T. Weiss, a brilliant legal mind and the associate editor of The Bilerico Project, the web’s largest LGBT group blog, will moderate the panel. Activist Autumn Sandeen, who blogs about LGBT issues at the highly regarded Pam’s House Blend will also join us, along with the tireless Monica Roberts, who does some of the web’s most thorough coverage of the trans community on her blog TransGriot, and Jos Truit, an editor at, a community of young feminist activists, who blogs about trans issues.
We’ll be talking about the role of online activism in securing a place at the table for the transgender community, despite pervasive societal prejudice, and how transgender bloggers and activists can and have translated their online efforts into on the ground political and policy results, despite the political forces in opposition. We will also discuss why political allies should connect with transgender issues in their blogging and activism.
Our panelists will share examples of the powerful role this online community plays in moving rights forward, while also examining what is missing from the conversation.

You must be registered for the Netroots Nation conference to attend this panel in person. To register or for more information, visit

If you can’t make it, we’ll be live tweeting the whole discussion, naturally. And it will be streamed live on the Netroots Nation website. Our panel is from 10:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.

Follow along at #NN12 #NN12LGBT

Friday, June 8, 2012
10:30 am · 11:45 am 

Rhode Island Convention Center
1 Sabin Street
Providence, RI 02903

RSVP and help us spread the word on Facebook

Friday, June 1, 2012

Gill Decision Day: Behind the Scenes, in the Headlines

 GLAD staff around the conference table during a press call
on the Gill v. OPM appeals court decision

Yesterday’s ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in our Gill DOMA lawsuit made for a crazy (in a good way) day. We weren’t exactly expecting a decision so soon, given that the First Circuit Court of Appeals had just heard the case on April 4. So there was a moment of panic among the non-lawyers in the office when we learned at about 9:58 a.m. that the decision was coming at 10:00, since we hadn’t yet finalized our Decision Day Plan – the magic document that keeps each of us from killing each other on task when a big ruling comes down. About 30 seconds later someone was shouting “We won!” from somewhere in the office and panic gave way, briefly, to joy. Then the phones started ringing. We decided to test run the Decision Day Plan from Pedersen -- our other pending DOMA lawsuit -- which has been done for months now. You gotta work with what you have.

Two hours later, after the decision had been thoroughly reviewed, plaintiffs conferenced with, and media advisories, press releases and emails drafted and sent, our entire staff calmly crowded into our conference room for a quickly organized tele-press conference. We were lucky on such short notice to have plaintiff couples Jonathan Knight and Marlin Nabors, and Bette Jo Green and Jo Ann Whitehead join the call. They were on the line with Mary Bonauto, who dialed in from her Maine office, and more than 40 reporters.

Mary gave some brief background on the lawsuit, then some analysis of the decision and where things might go from here (like the U.S. Supreme Court!). True to her give-them-all-the-facts-first style, Mary forgot to mention one important thing before she turned things over to our legal director, Gary Buseck, who promptly stated the obvious:

“We’re very happy with this result. I think it’s what we’ve worked a lot of years for and believe it’s the correct decision.”

“Yes. I agree. I’m happy,” Mary chimed in to laughter from reporters and co-workers. “I’m just overwhelmed trying to make sure I get a handle on the decision here.”

Since that’s her job, she was easily forgiven. But all our plaintiffs really needed to know was the “we won” part, and they spoke movingly about what the decision meant to them -- particularly Jonathan, a soft-spoken guy who typically leaves most of the commentary to his husband Marlin.

“Marlin and I have been together for seven years and married for five, and we do our very best to live our lives together in truth and authenticity,” he said in his deliberate, thoughtful manner. “We know that our relationship is full of the same kind of hopes, struggles and dynamics as all other married couples. So we’re thrilled to learn the law’s on the same page now and that we fall into the same class as everyone else. We’re no longer second class citizens.” If it wasn’t for the 40+ members of the media on the phone, I’m pretty sure we all would have jumped up and cheered Jonathan’s perfectly eloquent analysis.

In my mind, there’s not much else to say about this case. That doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate all of the media coverage of the decision, which gives us an important opportunity to amplify voices like Jonathan’s to educate the public about what we’re fighting for

Here’s a quick round-up of some of the more insightful and in-depth coverage:

Richard Socarides, an openly gay man who worked in the Clinton Administration, calls the Gill decision “a blockbuster ruling” in a blog post for the The New Yorker. It makes me giddy!
The Boston Globe was the first outlet we saw to get comment from attorney Paul Clement, who argued the losing side in Gill. Clement said his team hasn’t decided whether to appeal, but he added, “We have always been clear we expect this matter ultimately to be decided by the Supreme Court, and that has not changed.” Bring it!
New York Times reporters Katharine Seelye and Ethan Bronner did an excellent analysis of the decision and its impact on the LGBT movement and Gill’s potential for victory at the Supreme Court, in the likely event it lands there.
Metroweekly’s Chris Geidner also did a great analysis of the decision, observing that its narrowness offers “a roadmap” for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom many have pegged as the swing vote on any DOMA or marriage case that makes it to the High Court.

The Washington Post’s Joe Davidson interviewed our plaintiffs Al Koski and Jim Fitzgerald for his Federal Diary column examining the role federal employees are playing in the fight against DOMA. “Equal rights is all this is about,” Davidson writes. Indeed, it’s that simple.

The Post also did a more thorough analysis of the decision, with comment from Dale Schowengerdt, an attorney at the anti-LGBT legal organization Alliance Defense Fund. “Under this rationale, if just one state decided to accept polygamy, the federal government and perhaps other states would be forced to accept it, too,” he said. Yawn.