Civil Rights

Paycheck fairness: A moral obligation to America's workforce (Rep. Rosa DeLauro)

This week, President Obama and Vice President Biden added their voices in calling for the Senate to act on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Taken together with the recommendations put forth this week by the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, it is clear the time for this legislation, 47 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act and 13 years after I first introduced it, has finally come.

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DPBO: An inexpensive way to make the federal workforce more competitive and fair

Anyone looking to make the federal workforce more competitive and fair should be throwing their support behind the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, or DPBO. This bill would allow same-sex domestic partners of civilian (nonmilitary) federal employees to qualify for the same package of benefits currently offered to the spouses of heterosexual federal workers. These benefits include health and dental insurance, life insurance and family compensation for work-related injuries.

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Commemorating slaves' contribution to the capitol (Sen. Lincoln)

Senator Lincoln delivered the below speech yesterday in the Rayburn building during the Bronze Plaques Unveiling Ceremony Acknowledging the Role of Enslaved African Americans in the Contruction of the Capitol

Today is a very special day when after almost ten years of hard work and dedication, we celebrate the contributions made by enslaved African Americans in the construction of our U.S. Capitol. When the Capitol was first being built in the late 1700s and early 1800s, enslaved African Americans worked in all facets of its construction.

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The fight for equal rights continues (House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer)

Each June, we commemorate the birth of the modern Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender rights movement which began in June of 1969, as patrons of New York City’s Stonewall Inn courageously stood up to police harassment. Following their example, generations of LGBT Americans and their allies have fought for the right to live their lives openly, and to work and serve their country free from fear of discrimination and prejudice. LGBT Americans have made remarkable gains, showing that discrimination harms all of us by denying us the talents and commitment of those we exclude.

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'Don’t ask, don’t tell' must end (Rep. Steve Rothman)

As a member of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, I believe strongly in ensuring that the U.S. armed forces remain the best equipped, best prepared, and most powerful in the world. By sending home more than 13,500 qualified patriotic service members willing and fit to serve this country since 1994, “don’t ask don’t tell” has not helped keep us or our families safe.

On the contrary, the ban on gay, lesbian, and bisexual personnel from serving openly in the U.S. military is unjust, hurts America’s national security, and adds to our national deficit. Today, I am proud to have supported this important step toward its repeal.

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Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Mess with It

The military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is at a crossroads. Despite the fact that the Pentagon has ordered a review of the policy, many in Congress are unwilling to wait for the study to be complete. The 2.5-million member American Legion, by national resolution supports “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and believes it has served the military well for the last 17 years. Moreover, we believe changing a major social policy in the middle of two wars would be a mistake and distraction. I have written to the President and Congress about our concerns, yet many in Washington still seem intent on pre-empting the results of the military’s study.
Concerning the study, Marine Corps Commandant James Conway writes in a letter to Sen. John McCain, “the value of surveying the thoughts of Marines and their families is that it signals to my Marines that their thoughts matter.” Army Chief of Staff George Casey adds that changing the policy now “will be seen by the men and women of the Army as a reversal of our commitment to hear their views before moving forward.”
We must not allow Washington to break this commitment to our troops – especially as they fight abroad to keep us safe in the Global War on Terrorism. The American Legion believes we must serve our troops as well as they are serving us.
The men and women of our military should never be used to please political constituencies. They deserve better than that.

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End 'Don't ask, don't tell' now (Rep. Kendrick Meek)

This week, the White House made a big announcement: they would back a vote to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In my opinion, it is a vote that is long overdue. My opponents, however, both oppose changing this intolerant policy. For far too long, the Pentagon's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy has dishonored those who serve our country so nobly. While yesterday's signals from the White House are promising, the fight to finally repeal this policy has only just begun. The time to repeal "Don't ask, don't tell" is now - we can't delay any further. Click here to join me today and call on Congress to take immediate action on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

We must not let political games or ideological squabbles overwhelm our best chance to bring about this long-sought change. The current policy is not only discriminatory to so many Americans, but is wrong for our national security. Floridians deserve to know - Would Governor Crist and Speaker Rubio vote against the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell" pending in Congress right now? Since 1994, over 13,000 service members have been discharged under this law. This is reform that truly embodies the principles this nation was founded upon. I ask you to stand with our brave servicemen and women and join me in the fight to repeal "Don't ask, don't tell." Those who protect our nation deserve nothing less. This policy puts us in the company of countries like Cuba, China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Syria that don't allow LGBT citizens to serve in their military. Arguments that repealing "Don't ask, don't tell" would undermine our security are undercut by the fact that countries like Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and dozens of others all allow their LGBT citizens to openly serve in the military. These countries seem pretty secure to me.

A Gallup poll released earlier this month found that 70 percent of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. The New York Times reported: "A Post/ABC News poll showed that 75 percent of Americans support ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' One from the New York Times put support for gay men and lesbians serving openly at 70 percent. And 57 percent surveyed by Quinnipiac University favored repealing the 16-year-old law. Gallup shows that 70 percent of the American people are in line with that sentiment in a poll released on Monday." Another poll from CNN released today said that 78 percent of Americans support gays openly serving in the military. In this poll, even the majority of Republicans want this change.

On Monday, Governor Crist told reporters, "I think the current policy has worked pretty well for America. I don't know why there is any need for change at this time." Does that mean he would vote against this repeal in the Senate? I have been a longstanding cosponsor of legislation to repeal this discriminatory policy. Yesterday, I posted a petition on my website that calls on Congress to take immediate action to repeal "Don't ask, don't tell." I am the only progressive in this race standing up to repeal this policy. I hope you will join me today.

Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Florida.

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post

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The hidden costs of 'Don't ask, don't tell'

My first exposure to the issue of gays in the military came on one of my first days as a new cadet at West Point. We were marching (we would spend a lot of that year marching) to cadences, those singsong rhymes you associate with the military. One particular gung ho upperclassman led one about berets—“See the man in the red beret! …. See the man in the green beret! …” What I especially remember is the last verse, the apparent punch line of the cadence, only some of which is printable here: “See the man in the pink beret! He’s the worst you’ll ever see!  Hom-o-sex-u-al-it-y!”

That day in 1993, I did not yet know how personal this was to me. When I entered West Point, I wasn’t thinking about being gay or being straight; I was thinking about being a great cadet. It was only later when I came to accept my own truth – that I am a gay woman – that I began to contemplate the sacrifice that the Army would demand of me if I wanted to continue my chosen career. Over time I would realize that it was more than the life I was willing to lay down for my country. It was the sacrifice of all that we live life for: a loving partner, children and an honest life.

West Point has come a long way in the last seventeen years. I wish that I could say the same for the United States military’s policy against the gay men and lesbian women who serve honorably in its ranks. With at least 25 nations, including the vast majority of our NATO allies, allowing gays to serve openly today, the U.S. ban, while never wise is increasingly outdated. We can and should repeal the law the way those nations did, with virtually no problems: quickly and decisively, and with the strong support of the brass. I know the professional women and men with whom I served can carry out those orders without disruption.

Now, Congress is finally revisiting “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” The law has cost the armed services, by conservative estimates, more than 13,000 troops and $1.3 billion in lost training. “Conservative” because those numbers only capture the number of men and women actually discharged under DADT, not the many like me, who decided not to continue in their chosen profession because of the law.

When I was at West Point, it never occurred to me that I would leave the Army after my initial five-year commitment. I treasured being a West Point cadet and loved leading soldiers as an Army officer. Frankly, I was among the camp that used to look down on Academy graduates who served just five years (who we called “Five and Flyers”). We had come to West Point to serve our nation, and the school instilled in us the expectation of a lifetime of leadership for our country.

I served with pride, and I served well. Even graded on the military’s curve, I regularly got “top blocks” in my reviews. During my final year, everyone short of the post commander asked me not to leave.  Because I could not tell them the real reason for my decision, they thought there was room for negotiation. So they offered me a command. They offered to have the Army pay for law school for me.

Of course, they couldn’t offer me the one thing that would have made a difference: the opportunity to serve honestly. Staying in would have meant lying about the person that I loved, denying myself the opportunity to openly raise children with her, and being forced to live a lie while demanding a life of honor from those around me.

(Ironically, my partner was raised an “Army brat” on bases around the world as the daughter of an officer, and she loved it. If given the opportunity, she would have loved the life of an Army spouse.)

DADT not only costs the military good officers — and a costly investment — it creates vulnerabilities for all officers, much like witch hunts of the old days. You never know when a soldier that you disciplined might try to invoke the policy as retaliation, or when your battalion might use DADT to justifying spying on you. I had wonderful relationships with the soldiers and officers in all of my units — many of us are still friends on Facebook — but I can’t deny that I thought about these things.

I know many others who are still in the military who are also thinking about these things, gays and lesbians who are waiting to see what Congress does before deciding whether they will “re-up.” If the policy is not repealed, many more qualified men and women will leave the military’s ranks.

I still strive to lead my life in honorable service to country. But I will always regret that because DADT made it impossible for me to have a family and be true to myself in the military, it will be a civilian life.

Megan McDonald Scanlon is a West Point graduate and resident of Norfolk, Va.

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This June, a great American will celebrate her 99th birthday (Rep. Barbara Lee)

What makes for a great American? Try this on for size: Among her friends were Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, WEB DuBois, Jessica Mitford, Harry Belafonte and Maya Angelou.

When Nelson Mandela first visited the U.S. after being freed, he detoured his two stop tour to head for the Bay Area to honor her and the work she had spearheaded to free him.

She has traveled the world promoting peace and understanding, meeting with Castro in Cuba, Noriega in Panama and Palestinian leaders in the West Bank.

She certainly put her stamp on regional politics, mentoring two congressmembers, three mayors and countless other elected officials and government office holders. "When I was trying to decide about running for Congress," said my predecessor 27 year Housemember Ron Dellums, "she looked me in the eye and told me that I had to run. Then she almost forced our group to nominate me! It was Maudelle who made me run for Congress. Without her support, I would never have been able to do it."

So who is this local icon and world traveler who hobknobs with political and cultural leaders? Maudelle Shirek, Berkeley's longtime Vice Mayor, is a quiet, demur, fashionably dressed senior - raised on a farm in Jefferson, Arkansas and winner of several coveted 4H bake-offs and sewing contests.

Born on the anniversary of Juneteenth, African-American Emancipation Day, Shirek's grandparents themselves had been slaves. After witnessing the lynching of a relative, she abandoned the Jim Crow south for California.

Burnished by memories of injustice, she campaigned tirelessly for fair housing, integrated education, against all forms of discrimination, against war, for women's rights, civil rights and workers rights. Her union activity led to statewide SEIU office. She has been arrested countless times for labor actions and protests. On her 90th birthday, she led a thousand person labor demonstration demanding organizing rights for janitors. As she was the first person arrested, she was serenaded by the huge demonstration singing her Happy Birthday. Police officers cheerfully lined up to have their photos taken with their celebrity arrestee.

It hasn't all been acclaim. Long before the City of Berkeley named its City Hall for her and adorned it with a huge historical mural of her life, they fired her for being too old to run one of the two senior centers that she had founded. Some would say it was politically motivated. But she just turned around, at the age of 72, and began a new career. She ran for City Council to become the boss of those who had fired her. She served 20 years, the last 8 as Vice Mayor of the City, the oldest elected official in the United States.

When she retired, it was proposed that the City name the Main Post Office after its most notable citizen. But Representative Stephen King of Iowa led Republican congressional opposition to block this honor. Rep. King, who favors building a wall across the southern U.S. to keep Mexican immigrants out and who holds disgraced right-wing Senator Joe McCarthy as a personal hero, accused Shirek of having values that "set her apart from, I will say, the most consistent of American values." King who also advocates abolishing the IRS and having Congressmembers who vote for guest worker programs branded with a scarlet A, opposed Shirek's sponsorship of Oakland's Niebyl-Proctor Library, set up by a San Jose State Professor and civil rights activist to study progressive alternatives and "to support emerging struggles for racial and gender equality and for socialism."

Shirek herself was merely bemused. "My values are peace, education and progress. I think these are consistent American values. I'm sorry Representative King doesn't think so. I knew another man named King who shared these values with me."

As she celebrates her 99th birthday this June, she certainly can look back on a life which epitomizes these values. 

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post

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The people of Vieques, Puerto Rico deserve justice from the U.S. Government (Rep. Steve Rothman)

The injustice toward the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico must end. Vieques is a small island off the south east coast of Puerto Rico that was used as a bombing range by the U.S. Navy from World War II until 2003. The munitions used in and around Vieques contained toxins that have affected the health of the residents. Yet in 2003, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) issued a report that said that the levels posed no health risk. The conclusions in this report strain credibility, are inconsistent, and demand a thorough reexamination.

The people of Vieques deserve answers for the undisputed high rates of disease that they have encountered over the years.  Residents of Vieques have a 25% higher infant mortality rate, 30% higher rate of cancer, a 95% higher rate of cirrhosis of the liver, a 381% higher rate of hypertension, and a 41% higher rate of diabetes than those on the main island of Puerto Rico.

I have brought this issue to the attention of the highest levels of our government and all of the appropriate federal agencies. ATSDR was finally convinced to re-open this case and made this known in response to my demands during a hearing of the House Science and Technology Committee, of which I am a member, on March 12, 2009. They have now begun an independent reexamination of their 2003 conclusions and have stated that they will issue their initial findings by the end of the summer or early fall 2010.

In addition, I have been assured that this issue will be included in the White House Task Force’s examinations and recommendations to President Barack Obama regarding Puerto Rico. I look forward to reading a new and improved report from ATSDR that will finally reveal the truth and open the door for justice to be realized by the people of Vieques.  Finally, I intend to question ATSDR’s Director Henry Falk later this week when he appears before our House Science and Technology Committee.

We must bring the issues surrounding the health of Vieques to light. I am confident we will finally be able to bring justice to Vieques. The time for the U.S. government to right this wrong is long overdue.

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