#NCOD and Coming Out Still Matters: National #ComingOut Day Is October 11

National Coming Out Day Is October 11

#NCOD and Coming Out Still Matters: National #ComingOut Day Is October 11

If Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he would want me to say to all the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told they are less than by the churches, by the government, by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value, and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights, federally, across this great nation of ours.”― Dustin Lance Black

Every year in October during LGBT History Month National Coming Out Day is celebrated in tandem. Though The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is currently the largest or most well-known promoter of the event, it was founded in 1988 by activists Dr. Robert Eichberg, his partner William Gamble, and Jean O’Leary.

Though not an expected action, coming out is essentially necessitated by the human spirit for optimal health in all aspects of life—not just those related to the LGBTQ community.

Visibility, mental health, educational opportunities and encouragement for collective self-esteem are just a few reasons for the existence of the holiday, meant to raise consciousness and create dialogue regarding bisexual, gay, trans*, and lesbian issues, needs and achievements. Transparency in safe spaces regarding sexual and gender identity is a key component—however, there’s a special youth outreach contingent that has evolved in order to raise awareness about bullying and suicide prevention.

The co-founders of National Coming Out Day created the commemorative day in order to celebrate the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which took place in Washington, DC (with over 500,000 participants in attendance). As the campaign for civil rights and equality awareness continued to build momentum, more and more municipalities and institutions began to celebrate the event locally.

Organizations have embodied the spirit of National Coming Out Day in myriad ways—for example: via teach-ins, parades, rallies, parties and celebrations, multimedia presentations, movies, art projects and various offline events.

The Human Rights Campaign in particular has been instrumental in making sure National Coming Out Day is honored in every state in the United States. In spite of its name, this holiday has also been embraced by other countries including New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Each year, the HRC creates a new theme for this occasion. In 2013, which is the 25th anniversary of National Coming Out Day, the theme is “Coming Out Still Matters.”

Why does coming out still matter to our community? The HRC explains:

“25 years ago, on the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, we first observed National Coming Out Day as a reminder that one of our most basic tools is the power of coming out. One out of every two Americans has someone close to them who is gay or lesbian. For transgender people, that number is only one in 10. Coming out STILL MATTERS. When people know someone who is LGBT, they are far more likely to support equality under the law. Beyond that, our stories can be powerful to each other. Every person who speaks up changes more hearts and minds, and creates new advocates for equality.”

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Coming out is a rite of passage–acknowledging Queer and Trans* identity in a meaningful way is essential to mental health, at the very least. Why does coming out still matter to you–or does it still matter to you?

Let us know.

Namaste!

Gay Agenda

For more information about NCOD, visit the HRC here.

Senate Voice Vote Confirms 1st Openly Gay Latina to Federal Court

Nitza_Quinones_insert_courtesy_U_S_Senate
Nitza Quinones Alejandro Now Federal Judge to U.S. District Court in Pa.

On June 13, 2013, the U.S. Senate confirmed Nitza Quinones Alejandro to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  Nominated last November by President Obama for this position, she was renominated at the start of the 113th Congress in January as part of a group of thirty-three nominees. Alejandro has been a judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas since 1991. There, she presided over civil and criminal matters.

She is the first openly LGBT Hispanic to serve on the federal bench and the seventh openly LGBT person ever to receive confirmation as a federal judge. Prior to the Obama Administration, only one openly gay individual had been confirmed to serve with lifetime tenure on our federal judiciary.

Past History

After Quinones received her law degree in 1975 from the University of Puerto Rico School of Law, she began her legal career as staff attorney for Community Legal Services Inc. in Philadelphia from 1975 to 1977.  From 1979 to 1991, she was a staff attorney for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  Prior to that job, Quinones was an attorney advisor for the U.S Department of Health and Human Services from 1977 to 1979.  She holds a bachelor degree in Business Administration from the University of Puerto Rico, with honors, in 1972.

Recommended by Republican and Democratic Senators

Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa) called Quinones “ an exceptionally qualified member of the legal community to the bench. Her life as a lawyer, judge and civic leader make her a true American success story. ” According to the Human Rights Campaign, Casey recommended Quinones, formerly a Puerto Rico native.  Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a Tea Party Republican, who was elected to the Senate in 2010, also commended Quinones for her record: “in her twenty-one years on the bench, Nitza Quinones Alejandro has presided over many cases incorporating different facets of the law. In addition to her extensive experience in the courtroom, she has also remained active in her community through her work with schools and mentoring summer law interns.”

A spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, Michael Cole-Schwartz,  commended the Senate for the “confirmation of another well-qualified LGBT person to the federal judiciary. We are very pleased to see yet another highly qualified, openly LGBT nominee confirmed to the federal bench, particularly a woman of color who helps reflect the diversity of the American people in the judiciary.”

 

 

 

Illinois House Adjourns without Gay Marriage Vote

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Passed State Senate in February, but not Muster on May 31, 2013

One was surprised today that the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act that passed the State Senate in February and was going to be signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn, died.

Since Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2013, when the bill passed the state Senate, supporters of this bill legalizing gay marriage in Illinois, had105 days to obtain the sixty House votes necessary for the vote.  But even sixty votes remained elusive despite support from President Barack Obama who urged its passing last week in Chicago and ex-President Clinton.

Lack of Support For the Bill

So, what was the problem?  Many attribute it to the state House Black Caucus. A twenty-member bloc of African Americans, the Caucus faced stubborn resistance from black ministers.  Several House members were still undecided. Several in the caucus urged Rep. Harris to push the issue into the fall veto session to bring up same-sex marriage for a House vote. (nominating petitions for the 2014 ballot have to be filed after this session).

Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the bill’s sponsor in the House, said he didn’t have enough support and decided not to call the bill for a vote.  “Several of my colleagues have indicated that they would not be willing to cast a vote on this legislation today…and I’ve never been sadder to accept such request. They asked me for time to go back to their districts and reach out to their minds and hearts.”

Those In Favor Gravely Disappointed

Governor Pat Quinn who helped Illinois approve civil unions in 2011 had pledged to sign the measure into law. It had the support of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  Quinn repeatedly called on House lawmakers to vote on and approve the bill. He called legalizing gay marriage” a matter of equal rights and benefits for all citizens “ Gov. Quinn said the fight for same-sex marriage in Illinois is not over.”

Others who were dismayed included Lambda Legal whose lawsuit Darby v. Orr filed a year ago will move forward.  “We won’t stop (working) until same-sex couples in Illinois are treated with dignity and respect.” After thanking Senator Heather Stearns for passing this bill in the Senate, Rep. Harris, Rep. Cassidy and Rep. Mell, Lambda criticized that “our community did not at least get the vote Rep. Harris promised on the House floor.”

Marc Solomon, Freedom to Marry’s national campaign director, labelled the failure by the Illinois House a “disgrace.” Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign, said “The House of Representatives has neglected the rights of its constituents by failing to vote on marriage equality legislation.  For months, LGBT couples and their children have had their lives put on hold throughout an exhaustive political process that ultimately came up short. Today’s inaction is a prime example of why the U.S. Supreme Court must rule in favor of full marriage equality nationwide to ensure the security and welfare of these and countless other American families aren’t left to chance in future political battles.”

 

Boy Scouts’ Proposal Would Allow Gay Youth, Not Leaders

Scouts’ National Council Voting on May 20

On April 19, 2013, the Scouts announced that the proposal to lift the ban for gay youth members, but keep the ban for adult leaders who are lesbian or gay would be submitted to over 1,400 voting members of its National Council on May 20. If the resolution is approved, “no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone, “Deron Smith, the BSA’s spokesman stated.

During this past January, the Boy Scouts of America was considering a plan to give sponsors of local Scout units the option of admitting gays as both youth members and adult leaders or continuing to exclude them. However, the BSA changed its course owing to the surveys sent out to the Scouting community’s million members, starting in February.

Survey Results

The organization sent out about one million surveys and heard from 200,000 respondents, including many churches and religious organizations who are large supporters of scouting.

The results?  Sixty-one percent favored keeping the current policy of excluding gays while thirty-four percent did not.  However, among parents, 45% opposed the existing ban while 42% supported it.  A majority of teens opposed the ban. Three years ago, 58% supported the ban. The BSA in a statement said “while perspectives and opinions vary significantly, parents, adults in the Scouting community and teens alike tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of Scouting. “ The proposed resolution also reinforces that “Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”

A divisive Issue

Gay-rights groups and other have been pressing the Scouts to end the ban.  Said Richard Ferraro, the vice- president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination, “what this resolution appears to be doing is reinforcing the outrageous idea that gay people somehow pose a threat to kids, which experts like the American Psychological Association have dismissed for more than a decade.” Four experts consulted by the Scouts, according to the summary, said, that homosexuality is not a risk factor for sexual abuse and that there was no evidence that having a gay leader would alter a child’s sexual orientation.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the BSA hadn’t gone far enough. “What message does this resolution send to the gay Eagle Scout who, as an adult, wants to continue a lifetime of Scouting by becoming a troop leader?”

For some gay scouts like Ryan Andresen of California, this policy will come too late.  Last year, Ryan was denied his Eagle Scout award because he is gay.  ‘Had this proposed policy been enacted just a few months ago, Ryan would have received his Eagle award.  Now that he’s 18, under the proposed policy, he would once again be rejected by the Boy Scouts.’

 

Conservative Members

More conservative members have advocated maintaining the ban, which the Scouts defended before the Supreme Court in 2000.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest organization for Scouts troops, is non-commital about the ban at this point. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the policy is incoherent. “ The proposal says in essence, that homosexuality is morally acceptable until a boy turns 18- then, when he comes of age, he’s removed for the Scouts.” The Family Research Council has been circulating an online petition urging the BSA to keep the ban.

Besides the Mormon Church, many scout units are sponsored by relatively religious denominations that have supported the ban on gays in the past, notably the Roman Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Churches. They have expressed concern over having gay adult leaders and were less concerned about gay youth members.

The survey gauged the proposal’s impact on financial support.  Local Scout councils reported that fifty-one percent of their major donors opposed easing the ban, while a majority of Fortune 500 companies supported a change.

Outcome in May

The BSA has anticipated that easing the ban on gay adults might prompt between 100,000 and 350,000 members to leave the organization which now has 2.6 million youth members. Gay-friendly scouting group, Navigators USA, now has forty-five chapters in twenty-one states, with nineteen chapters since March 2012.

 

 

 

Are You Sitting Down? Newt Gingrich Approves of Gay Marriage, Sort of

Are You Sitting Down?  Newt Gingrich Approves of Gay Marriage, Sort of

Former House Speaker and Ultra-Conservative Supports Civil Gay Marriage

Reflecting the nation’s trend toward acceptance of gay marriage, Newt Gingrich says he can accept the “reality” of marriage between same-sex couples if it’s a legal document issued by the state. However, Gingrich, who formerly served Georgia’s 6th Congressional district from 1979 to 1999, still believes that marriage is defined between a man and a woman.

From Equating Same-Sex Marriage to Paganism to Seeing It as Reality

The former Presidential hopeful who has been married three times, believes that the Republican party can distinguish between church and state-issued same-sex marriages and learn to accept the latter.

Why is Gingrich changing his stand?  When he was one of the architects of Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) signed by Clinton in 1996, he did not approve of  the sexual orientation of his lesbian half-sister Candace Gingrich-Jones. She works for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT political group. But today, he credits Candace, who has a same-sex marriage, with helping change his mind.

Newt is the first to admit that he didn’t see the coming power of the LGBT community and its allies as far back as 1996, but now understands the wave of change that’s sweeping over the nation, according to Chad Griffin, HRC’s president.

Gingrich’s Predictions for Gay Marriage

In a story published on December 20th in The Huffington Post, Gingrich told reporters “the momentum is clearly now in the direction of finding some way to … accommodate and deal with reality.  And the reality is going to be that in a number of American states – and it will be more after 2014—gay relationships will be legal, period.

It’s in every family. It’s in every community.” Gingrich even admits that he has gay friends who got married in Iowa. “ I think that this will be much more difficult than immigration for conservatism to come to grips with, “ he attests. Now a converted Catholic, who distances himself from Southern Baptists, Gingrich sees the debate changing after voters elected a record number of out LGBT politicians to Congress and marriage equality measures in Washington, Maine, and Maryland.

What The Republican Party Needs to Do

Although Gingrich took a hard stand against same-sex marriage while campaigning for the Republican nomination this year, he now thinks the Republican party will have to find a way to adjust.  The opposition to gay marriage is dying as statistics, voters, and now he indicate.

The group Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry agree.  “Our party must keep pace with the American people if it is to remain relevant in the political process, and as we saw in the recent election, we have some changes to make. “

Faith’s Concrete Proof

Anti-Gay Marriage Supporters

In the Name of God, Bible’s teachings, and religions that advocate DOMA’s definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, beliefs have been strong opponents of same-sex marriage.

Brian Brown, the president of the conservative National Organization for Marriage, acknowledged that opponents of gay marriage outspent three to one in the state ballot campaigns in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota (still illegal, but not banned), and Washington State.  Yet, despite these “shots-in-the-arms,” from the objectors, the voters of those states decisively cast their votes for gay marriage in those states.

Brian Brown

Brian Brown

Brown was not alone in his celebrated cause of “preserving marriage as God designed it.” Frank Schubert, a wealthy California consultant, orchestrated campaigns to combat same-sex marriage as did the Roman Catholic Church affiliates.

Religion Not Always An Obstacle to Marriage Equality Campaigns

While religion has been seen as an obstacle for LGBT persons and has been used as a justification for not giving them their full rights, according to Sharon Groves, Director of Religion and Faith at Human Rights Campaign, it was the reason that the marriage equality campaigns in those above states succeeded.

Sharon Groves, Religious Activist

Dr. Groves, a lay leader at a Unitarian Church, chaired the Committee on Ministry and worked on community voting rights, and neighborhood outreach, and racial justice issues, says that religious engagement was a key to the solution: a thoughtful, multidimensional engagement with people of faith made the difference in each of these four campaigns.  A writer of numerous articles on marriage equality, Dr. Groves has been with the HRC since 2005.

Historically, LGBT activists have been resistant to engaging faith communities.  After all, in many cases, LGBT persons have been made to feel unwelcome in their congregations, their communities, and sometimes, in their own homes where they have been ostracized.

Proposition 8 Regarded as Too Secular

Using Proposition 8 ‘s defeat in California as an example of what can go wrong when religious communities are not focused. The Rev. Rebecca Voelkel wrote after Proposition 8’s loss that “it is naive to believe that rights-based arguments can trump the value-based arguments of conservative religious leaders. It’s also naive to ignore the power and influence of the moral authority given to religious leaders within communities of faith.”

Now Religious Leaders Know Better

This time around, political strategist and religious leaders knew that religion would be a decisive factor in the four states’ elections. So, they organized.  Each state’s campaign had a faith director and faith organizers.

What Minnesota Did

Campaign efforts (phone banking, canvassing, persuasion efforts) were all in sync with faith communities.  For instance, nearly 3,000 faith leaders made 10 to 30 one-on-one calls to people of faith. These methods were particularly effective for undecided voters and were used in all four states.

A Black Coalition Proved Fruitful

In Maryland, the Rev. MacArthur Flournoy worked together with Reverend Delman Coates, an African American Baptist, who became a spokesperson for marriage equality.  Through alliance with LGBT clergy and straight persons, the black faith team made progress in undermining the assumption that gay marriage was only a concern for white people.

Pro-Equality Roman Catholic Organizing

In all four states, there was an increase in pro-equality Roman Catholic organizing.  Catholics for Marriage Equality, using a Maine model, emerged in all four states.  This loose federation gave permission to Catholics to follow their conscience even if it meant disagreeing with their  bishops.

Washington State, as well as the other three, ran powerful ads in major newspapers across the state highlighting Catholic support. Thousands of Catholics were mobilized and raised the money for these ads.

Religious Leaders were Promoted

To combine the messages of the campaigns with the stories of religious leaders, the Human Rights Campaign as well as other campaigns joined forces with Auburn Theological Seminary. Many top level religious leaders were media- trained to provide a pro-faith, pro-equality message.

Religious Messages Can Be Effective Tools

While the religious right and other religious entities fund, organize and launch anti-LGBT campaigns, by organizing people of faith, with a “boots on the ground” strategy, Minnesota, Maine, Maryland, and Washington state were able to defeat bans on same-sex marriage.

 

“A Milestone Year” = Chad Griffin, Human Rights Campaign President

What a year!  The re-election of President Barack Obama who initially said his position on same-sex marriage was ‘evolving’and later altered his stance to full-blown endorsement of gay marriage… Tammy Bladwin  from Wisconsin becomes the first openly lesbian Senator. Across the United States, openly gay legislators and senators won seats, including a transgender legislator from New Hampshire.

Voters Approve same-sex marriage in Maine, Washington, and Maryland

Maine

This state, like Maryland and Washington, voted on whether to place a ban on gay marriage in the State Constitution. A 2009 referendum quashed a gay marriage law enacted by the legislative, as in California in 2008.  Over the summer, enough signatures were collected to schedule the vote.

This is the first time that gay marriage has won at the polls by a popular vote.  Dating back to 1998, same- sex marriage has been rejected in all thirty-two states that have held popular votes on the issue.

Maryland and Washington

In gay marriage,  laws were approved by law makers and signed by governments earlier this year. However, opponents collected enough signatures to challenge the laws. The most expensive campaign for gay marriage was launched in Washington State, where supporters of Referendum 74 to endorse same-sex marriage raised nearly $11 million, with the help of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com.  Earlier this year, Starbucks, a supporter of gay marriage, fought boycotts by marriage equality opponents.

Minnesota

Voters rejected a ban on same-sex marriage.  The question was whether the state would join thirty others in placing in its Constitution a ban on gay marriage.  Although the ban was defeated, same-sex marriage would remain illegal in Minnesota under the statue.

Conservatives were trying to pass an amendment to the State Constitution to prevent a new legislature from reversing it. ( The legislation that was up for vote would have made it constitutionally more difficult for judges or lawmakers to overturn the ban.)

Opponents of Same-Sex Marriage

Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, acknowledges that opponents outspent three to one in the state ballot campaigns.  He says, “ through we are disappointed over these losses, we remain faithful to our mission and committed to the cause of preserving marriage as God designed it.”  The Roman Catholic Church affiliates  and wealthy  individuals such as Frank Schubert, a California consultant, orchestrated campaigns to combat same-sex marriage.

“Tuesday’s Elections Signify An Historic Shift” – Griffin

The election was a turning point.  Public opinion has definitely shifted.  Recent polls show that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage.

The name of states with gay marriage increased by 50% overnight.  Still, as Brian Brown points out, “ it bolsters our case.  It’s very difficult to say you need a federal resolution of this question.  if states are resolving it for themselves.  Adam Umhoefer, the executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, says that “fundamental constitutional rights like marriage, should never be subjected to a popular vote. (see http://”States’ Votes for Gay Marriage Are Timely, With Justices Ready to Weigh Cases, ” The New York Times, 11-8-12.