Civil Rights

Outing Age 2010 shines spotlight on challenges facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as they age, presents policy recommendations

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) have just released Outing Age 2010: Public Policy Issues Affecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Elders, an update to the Task Force’s groundbreaking Outing Age report issued in 2000. Like its predecessor, Outing Age 2010 presents an in-depth look at public policy issues and challenges facing millions of aging LGBT people in the United States.

The updated report comes on the heels of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ recent announcement of plans to establish the first national LGBT elder resource center. LGBT aging issues have been a focus of the New Beginning Initiative, a Task Force-coordinated collaboration of more than 20 national LGBT organizations moving to promote change within federal agencies to improve the lives of LGBT people. LGBT aging issues have been identified as a priority issue for the Task Force and SAGE.

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More data on America's ethnic diveristy needed in next year's census (Rep. Mike Honda)

Next year, the United States will be conducting the decennial census, our constitutionally mandated survey of the nation’s population. The census is a count of everyone residing in the United States, and the results help determine each state’s congressional representation and how much federal funding is allocated to our districts. They also help shape decisions by the national and local governments, such as where to increase services for the elderly, or where to build new roads, schools, or houses. Thus, the decennial count will have a significant impact in investments in our area, and it is important that everyone be counted.

One key element of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that I advocated for was additional funding for the 2010 United States Census. The ARRA provided $1 billion in additional funding to hire new personnel, address operational and program risks, and to increase outreach efforts to hard-to-count communities in the 2010 census.

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Unjustly detained Colombian human rights activist to face trial, US Aid to Colombia key to ending arbitrary detention of activists

All signs pointed to the release of Carmelo Agamez Berrio, a well known Colombian human rights activist, who has been unjustly detained for almost a year in Sucre. He had been appointed a new prosecutor and senior Colombian justice officials had raised concerns about due process rights violations in his case. However, in a surprising twist last week, the 28th antiterrorism prosecutor in Bogota issued a resolution formally bringing to trial the specious investigation against Agamez.

Carmelo Agamez is Technical Secretary of the Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE) in Sucre department. He was detained in November 2008 charged with consorting with right-wing paramilitary leaders. Agamez has devoted his career to documenting human rights violations and exposing alleged links between local public officials and paramilitaries. Given his strident opposition to paramilitary groups, it is implausible that he has also been consorting with them. The case against Agamez has been marked by a series of inconsistencies and violations, which both a court and the Prosecutor General of Colombia have publicly recognized.

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Hidden injustice: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in juvenile courts

For more than 20 years, the juvenile justice system has steadily become more punitive in how it treats youth accused of delinquent offenses.  In some jurisdictions, the pendulum is slowly starting to swing back, with reform efforts underway to develop more fair and effective juvenile courts.  Notably absent from these efforts, however, has been a focus on the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.

The lack of professional guidance for juvenile justice professionals working with these youth is cause for concern. According to a 2009 study by Ceres Policy Research, LGBT youth comprise close to 12% of the overall population of youth in juvenile detention facilities.  Despite this compelling statistic, many juvenile justice professionals pay scant—if any—attention to LGBT youth.

A report released this week by the Equity Project, a collaboration of Legal Services for Children, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Juvenile Defender Center, aims to fill the gap in professional guidance for those working with this often-hidden population.  The report, Hidden Injustice:  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in Juvenile Courts, is the first comprehensive effort to examine the experiences of LGBT youth in juvenile courts nationwide. 

Drawing from first-hand accounts of more than 50 LGBT youth, survey responses of 414 juvenile justice professionals, and in-depth interviews of 65 juvenile court judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, probation officers, and detention staff, this groundbreaking report uncovered numerous barriers to fair and effective treatment that LGBT youth face in the justice system. These injustices include: deprivations of due process rights; a lack of appropriate services; unwarranted detention and incarceration; and shocking emotional, physical, and sexual abuse within detention and correctional facilities.

To assist juvenile justice professionals, policymakers, and advocates with addressing these problems head on, the report provides detailed practice and policy recommendations. 

The report specifically calls on policymakers to take some key steps on this issue, including enacting laws that specifically prohibit discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and schools; supporting the adoption of non-discrimination policies by juvenile justice agencies; and enacting legislation that makes receipt of federal funds for juvenile justice programming contingent upon the adoption of nondiscrimination polices and includes adequate funding for the creation of a continuum of community-based programs that are competent to serve LGBT youth.

Furthermore, Hidden Injustice encourages policymakers to take steps to enact legislation that rolls back punitive responses to minor misbehavior by adolescents, such as legislation giving schools incentives and resources to develop interventions to improve student behavior and keep youth in school, rather than referring students to juvenile court. Policymakers also are encouraged to support legislation and programs that (1) respond to juveniles engaged in prostitution with social services rather than criminal sanctions, (2) address out-dated age of consent laws that expose adolescents to court sanctions for engaging in consensual sexual behavior with other adolescents of the same age, and (3) exempt juveniles from unnecessary sex offender registration and community notification laws. 

Lastly, the report recommends that Congress reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act and take other steps to ensure status offender systems provide services to at-risk youth outside the court system and do not incarcerate these youth.

By implementing these and the many other practice and policy recommendations from Hidden Injustice, juvenile justice professionals, policymakers, and advocates will be one step closer to ensuring a fair and just juvenile delinquency system that upholds the constitutional rights of all youth and ensures that all are treated with dignity, fairness, and respect. 

Jody Marksamer is a co-author of Hidden Injustice.  Visit www.equityproject.org to download an electronic copy of Hidden Injustice, or order a free hardcopy. For additional information, contact the Equity Project at info@equityproject.org.

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The Hate Crime Bill is now law – What’s next?

There was great joy and tremendous relief in the East Room of the White House last week when President Barack Obama signed into law the "Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act” (HCPA).  Enactment was long overdue – wrongly delayed by distortions, outright lies about its provisions, and veto threats by President George W. Bush.

Far from the false labels by a vocal minority of conservative religious voices, (“Pedophile Protection Act” and “Hate Christians Act” to name just two) the HCPA is essential legislation that closes gaps in existing federal authority to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated crimes.   This update of a forty-year old federal hate crime law encourages partnerships between state and federal law enforcement officials to more effectively address hate violence.  The new law also provides limited authority for federal investigations and prosecutions when local authorities are unwilling or unable to act. 

We have been privileged to lead a broad coalition of civil rights, religious, educational, professional, law enforcement, and civic organizations working in support of this legislation for more than a decade.  Bipartisan majorities in both the Senate and the House had approved this legislation on a number of occasions, but never the same language at the same time.  This year, the support of President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., provided the critical final piece.

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ENDA will provide critical employment protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers

The state of the U.S. workplace for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people — transgender Americans in particular — is absolutely shameful. Thankfully, our nation is on the cusp of seriously addressing this injustice: Congress is currently considering the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a hearing on the legislation today, and got an earful about the dire need to enact these fundamental protections.

There is a growing and widespread feeling of economic vulnerability among people from all backgrounds and all parts of our country. Unemployment is high; folks are having a tough time finding work. Those who do have jobs are fearful of losing them. A few weeks ago, my son’s former teacher — a 20-year veteran who wrestled more productivity from his color-outside-the-lines nature than any previous teacher — was laid off.  These stories are no longer rare. Virtually everyone knows someone who has been pink-slipped in the past year. Accomplished people. Go-getters. People who seemed exempt from the unpredictability of sudden job loss.

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Passage of hate crimes bill marks milestone for LGBT Americans

This week marked a major milestone for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans, with the Senate’s passage of federal hate crimes legislation. The bill, which passed the House Oct. 8, now shifts to President Obama, who has vowed to sign it.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act will help protect people against violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, gender, national origin and disability by extending the federal hate crimes statute. It will provide critical federal resources to state and local agencies to equip local officers with the tools they need to prosecute hate crimes.

For years, opponents have waged a toxic misinformation campaign against this legislation because they would rather see anti-LGBT crimes go unaddressed than have the words 'sexual orientation' or 'gender identity' appear alongside other protected classes in federal law. Those days are now coming to an end.

With his signature, President Obama will usher in a new era — one in which hate-motivated violence against LGBT people will no longer be tolerated. Our country will finally take an unequivocal stand against the bigotry that too often leads to violence against LGBT people.

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Putting fairness back in Section 8 housing law (Rep. Elton Gallegly)

When the Quality of Housing & Work Responsibility Act became law in 1999, it rightly prohibited public housing authorities from lowering the rent for Section 8 recipients who commit welfare fraud or refuse to participate in self-sufficiency programs.

It did not, however, prohibit private providers from lowering their share of the rent, which in turn, increases their government subsidy, while honest, hardworking low-income families cannot even qualify for benefits under the Section 8 program.

When Karen Steinbaum with the Affordable Housing Management Association of the Pacific Southwest brought this loophole to my attention earlier this month, my response was to introduce H.R.3897, the Removing Reward for Section 8 Housing Fraud Act of 2009.

Section 8 housing subsidies are based on a family’s net income. The lower the income, the higher the subsidy and the lower the rent for the family. If a person commits welfare fraud or refuses to participate in a self-sufficiency program, they are ordered to repay the government, thereby lowering their monthly net income.

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Equality: Past, present, and future (Rep. Carolyn Maloney)

Last week, Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University became the first woman to win the prestigious Nobel Prize for Economics in its 41-year history. What made her achievement even more remarkable is the fact that she's not even an economist; she's a political science scholar.

But what are the chances that anyone will long remember this historic first? Not very good, I'm afraid, if "history" is any guide. And by "history," I don't mean the way things happened once upon a time in the real world. By "history," I mean the way we select, portray and celebrate the stories we tell ourselves and our children about our shared past.

"Historically" speaking many remarkable feats and historic firsts achieved by women have been left out of both the telling and the remembering. While all school children are taught about John Smith and John Alden, how many are also taught about Anne Forrest and Anne Buras, the first two women to settle in Jamestown? The two Anne's had to summon the same courage and fortitude and had to face the same hardships and perils as the two John's, but these remarkable women are little noted and not remembered.

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One step closer to the fairness finish line

Years ago, the federal government was the pioneer in adopting benefits and policies that set the bar for fairness. Over time, as more and more businesses began operating on a global scale, the private sector realized that it must compete for the best and brightest and gradually assumed the leading role.  Last week, however, at the Senate hearing on the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which would provide benefits for same-sex domestic partners of federal civilian employees on the same basis as spousal benefits, it became very apparent that the federal government is ready and willing to get back in the game as a leader for equality in workplace.

This was the second time, in as many years, that Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has presided over a hearing to review whether the federal government’s policies for employment-related benefits are being applied in a fair manner.  The answer is, of course, no.  The difference between the hearing in September 2008 and the one held yesterday goes far beyond night and day.

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