High School Junior – final project on gay rights

Darian a bold and tenacious teenager contacted me about her junior english project months before the due date.  She inquired about interviewing me so she could write a well informed position paper.  I am very proud of her work and she received and “A” on this project.  Just know she is from North Dakota and identifies herself as an ally to our community – her work inspires me that the next generation is listening and learning.

~~~~~~~~~

Darian

Honors English 11.5

13 March 2013

The Gay Rights Movement

 It seems as though in every generation there is a new rights battle to be won. Many people believe that all these battles have their own goals and shouldn’t be compared to any other Right’s movement, but in actuality each struggle boils down to one simple, repetitive concept that the infrastructure of our entire country rests upon: Equality. In the 1850’s women and some men fought together for gender equality. In the 1960’s blacks and whites alike fought for color equality. In the early 90’s, people with disabilities who couldn’t defend themselves were liberated by others who didn’t have anything to gain except gratitude.  Now, in 2013, the most diverse time period in history, Gay people are fighting for marriage equality and simple basic rights. My goal is to give them the full support of the straight population, including myself, because it has been shown throughout history that sometimes a little extra help can make all the difference. Although there is no excuse for discrimination, it is very prominent even in today’s day and age. Gay people, like every other group of unequals, are human, and today I would like to educate the population about the people who are dehumanized due to their sexuality. No person should have to face this kind of adversity. All of us, no matter how we feel morally about Gays, need to take a stand and fight for them and every other group of people that needs our help. We need to annihilate the opposition and get rights for our fellow Americans. It is our duty to be advocates for the American people and for the world.

The history of homosexuality dates back to the beginning of time. It has been discussed in such material as Plato’s Symposium, and even famous men such as Alexander the Great had an interest in other men (Pickett). However, in order to save time, I will not elaborate on the beginning history of Gays, but rather the beginnings of their liberation. The first recognized gay rights organization in the United States was founded December 10th, 1924. Since that time Gays have been working to gain the rights that every citizen is entitled to.

The real revolution began on June 28th, 1969 when Gays fought back against the police force at Stonewall Inn in New York. At the time, being Gay was considered a mental illness and there were no places where Gay men and women could meet and hang out. The privately owned Stonewall Inn was turned into a popular Gay bar and they had a place to go. When it was busted by the police, the Gays refused to show their ID’s and fought against them.  Many straight couples aided them in their battle. The attack went on until 4am and eventually the Stonewall Inn was burned and destroyed. After the riot, many people began to sympathize with the Gays. This infamous event became known as the Stonewall Riots, which fueled the fire that still burns today (TabooJive).

One of the greatest fallbacks for the Gay population originated around the 1960’s and  was pinpointed in 1982. This new disease, known today as AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) became known as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). AIDS is actually caused by a virus not a lifestyle, but at the time Gays were targeted as the cause of the new killer. There is actually sufficient evidence to prove that the AIDS virus was manmade. According to Alan Cantwell, MD, “By 1977 over 13,000 Manhattan gays were screened to secure the final 1083 men who would serve as guinea pigs to test the hepatitis B vaccine”(Cantwell, Gay Experiment). Just 5 years later, the first cases of AIDS showed up in Manhattan.”The gay community was the most hated minority in America. After the experiments ended, the gay community was decimated by the ‘gay plague’.” In the first years of AIDS, the epidemic was largely ignored by the government and the disease was blamed on gay anal sex, drugs, and promiscuity. Gays were immediately labeled ‘high risk'”(Cantwell, Homophobic Homosexuals). Despite this major set back, the Gay liberation was revived and developed into the movement that it is today.

The Pro-Gay Argument

While many people have been in an isolated homosexual experience, the number of exclusively Gay people in the United States is close to 2.5%  of the population (Tarmann) and for the first time in America there is a majority of support for Gays. “Overall, 53 percent of Americans say gay marriage should be legal…” says Damla Ergun, a journalist for ABC news (Ergun). For the first time, the discriminators are the minority. However, all is not won. Many anti-gay supporters do not believe that Gays can contribute to society at all and therefore should not have equal rights. In fact, there are many great things about gay people that should be presented and discussed.

Science is certainly not on the pro-Gay side, as it is genetically impossible for Gays to reproduce. However, that could be a good thing considering that many Gay families have turned to adoption in order to raise a family. According to the Williams Institute, UCLA school of law, about 6,477 children were adopted by Gays in 2000. By 2009, that number had skyrocketed to 21,740 and is still growing (Michelson). Although that is only a small minority of about 1% of all kids in the nation, it is still a huge advance for supporters of gay rights and homeless children alike. For Gay people that want to start a family, it is difficult but not impossible. The Human Right’s Campaign reported that 21 states and the District of Columbia are open to adoption for Gays. Although each have different rules about adoption, it is still achievable (Gay Adoption). It is also extremely beneficial for children that are put in the adoption system, as they are given a loving family.

In the episode, “Same Sex Parenting”, on 30 Days, directed by Morgan Spurlock, a woman that opposes Gay Adoption was sent to live with a Gay couple and their adopted children for 30 days. During her stay she met with advocates of adoption for children who faced the system themselves and they told her, “No child should have to deal with living in a group home. None of them come close to living with a real family….Whether black, green, white, gay, lesbian—whatever…The bottom line is, we need stable families for children” (30 Days). It is certainly a process, but completely worth it for the kids. Although Gay people cannot conceive their own children like a regular couple, they can save all the unwanted ones from the horrors of the adoption system and the world. In this way, Gays are providing love for children that wouldn’t otherwise receive it; a gift that most would agree is extraordinary to say the least.

Although the entire Gay Rights Movement is almost entirely based on ethics, there are some surprising facts about how married Gay couples can impact the economy greatly. According University of Rochester graduate, Jerome Nathaniel, it would be more likely for states to allow marriage if activists fought for economic reasons rather than ethical reasons. Since last July, when Gay marriage was legalized in New York, over 7,000 Gay couples have been married in the state. Over 200,000 people from around the country have come to the state to get married. New York gained $259 million in economic activity and $16 million in taxes. This huge economic increase is a great advantage of Gay marriage regardless of one’s moral stance. A second argument in support of Gay marriage is that same-sex couples are more likely to both bring in an income. If they are both bringing in high incomes, and file their taxes jointly, they can be required to pay higher taxes due to the “Marriage Penalty Act.” This will generate more money than taxing the two individuals separately. Divorce is also a costly procedure, and roughly 50% of all married couples will go through it. Sometimes more than once. This is another expensive battle that will generate revenue for the state (Nathaniel). This argument alone makes a strong case in support of Gays, but the list of good things that Gays can bring to the country is endless.

The Anti-Gay Argument

            Although there are great things about Gay people, like any other controversial topic there is opposition and huge amounts of it in this case. Much of the opposition comes from religion and really cannot be considered valid due to the secular nature of our government. It seems, however, that our government is not following the rules outlined in our constitution and, therefore, there are still some important points to consider. It is mostly a moral battle, and will be difficult to win on both sides; but many of the arguments opposing Gay Rights can be flipped around to be Pro-Gay Rights arguments, and thus cannot be very persuasive. Despite its lack of validity, the Anti-Gay side is an extremely popular movement, and it is important to consider the opposition in order to counter and conquer the Anti-Gay movement entirely.

When arguing against Gay Right’s most religious arguments revolve around the scripture, which many faithful followers believe is the word of God. Although the Bible is strictly interpretation, many followers believe that homosexuality is condemned in the Bible and therefore should be condemned in the country as well. There are approximately six quotes from the Bible that refer directly and indirectly to homosexuality. For example, one of the most popular quotes is in Leviticus 18:22 cited from the King James Version of the Bible. God is speaking to Moses, and he says, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination”(King James Bible, Lev. 18.22). It is difficult to to understand exactly what God was saying here because the Old Testament was written nearly 4,000 years ago; however, for many religious followers (branches of Christianity in particular) the word of God is law and they are not open to different interpretations. This quote from the Bible specifically condemns Gays to Hell and for most Christians that is where the line is drawn on Homsexuality. To religious people, Marriage is the union between a man and a woman in holy matrimony. Gays are not supported by the Bible, so to them Gays should also not be able to be married as marriage is considered a religious institution. Although much of this argument is invalid due to the freedom of religion or no religion that the First Amendment offers, it is a major argument and important to evaluate.

The religious argument has made it far into the minds of people; but fortunately, when it comes to the government, the argument is stopped in its tracks due the equal protection clause in the 14th amendment of the Constitution. Although it doesn’t directly state separation of church and state, it can be inferred in this quote that has been used for many years to defend the rights of certain groups of people including blacks and women: “[No citizen of] any state shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”(US Const. amend. XIV, sec. 1). In order to effectively counter against the Pro-Gay Movement, opposers had to make more valid arguments and have come up with things that are really just buffers because their real opinions cannot be used logically in the government.

 

Counter Arguments

            Although the arguments against Gays are sometimes correct, they don’t always tell the whole story. For example, in the Bible it does say that homosexuality is a sin, as stated earlier; however, in that same chapter it is also stated, “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him” (Lev. 20.9). Most Christians would agree that if their child is disrespectful to them they will certainly be punished but definitely not put to death. In that case, if we are not going kill rebellious children as the Bible says, how can being Gay possibly be a sin? Why is it that being Gay is an abomination as stated by the Lord, yet putting children to death is no longer ideal? It seems that if someone is going to follow the Bible they should follow all of it or none of it. How can we pick and choose what we want to hear and use that to constitute discrimination? We simply cannot. Thus, the religious argument against Gay rights is invalid.

The argument that marriage is a sacred, religious institution that must be preserved and will be ruined  by allowing Gays to be married is also inaccurate. Why is it that Kim Kardashian’s 72 day marriage to NBA star, Kris Humphries (Pous), or Brittany Spears’ 55 hour marriage to Jason Alexander (Townsend) is completely legal and not punishable, yet Gay people who have been together for years cannot experience an actual, loving marriage? This is because the sanctity of marriage has been gone for many years. As previously stated, the divorce rate is 50%. Nearly half of all couples will go through it. And even more important, is that marriage is not only a religious institution, but a government institution as well. Because Gay couples cannot legally be married, they miss out on approximately 1,183 different benefits that traditional couples are endowed. Among these denied benefits are the right to assume parenting rights and responsibilities when a child is brought in through birth, the right to equally share all property in the event of a breakup, and the right to make decisions when a partner is in a medical emergency ( Rights Denied to Same-Sex Couples). Ultimately, these denied rights are not only demeaning, but in some cases can ruin lives. B

In 2007, Janice Langbehn and her partner of fifteen years, Lisa Pond, went on a cruise with their three children in Miami, Florida. Disaster struck when Lisa collapsed. She was rushed immediately to Jackson Memorial Ryder Trauma Center. Upon her arrival, Janice was informed by the trauma social worker that she was in “an anti-gay city and state” and was not allowed to see Lisa or know of her condition. Even though the couples Medical POA was faxed within minutes, over the next eight hours neither Janice nor her children were permitted to see lisa and she died alone the next morning. Janice and her children did not get to say goodbye (Langbehn’s Bio).  Although this is an extreme case, it happens all the time. Since Janice and Lisa were not able to be married, she was not allowed to see the woman that she loved on her deathbed. Upon questioning, Janice said, “It’s not a Gay right, it’s a human right.” The right to say goodbye to a loved one should not be denied regardless of marriage status or sexual orientation. It is a simple right that every person should have, yet Janice and her children were denied due to the heartless discrimination that she faced. It is certainly not fair, and for this reason, we as a nation need to change.

Another popular argument is that being Gay is a choice. This argument has been proven wrong many times, yet many people still believe it. In 2007 the American Psychological Association stated that, “Homosexuality, in and of itself is not associated with mental disorders or emotional or social problems.” Most of today’s psychologist view homosexuality as neither willfully chosen nor willfully changed, just as heterosexuals are not likely to engage in homosexual activity.  If homosexuality is not a choice, then the question arises, where does homosexuality come from? Many studies have conducted studies to find out the true cause of homosexuality and surprising results occurred. For example, in interviews with nearly 1000 homosexuals and 500 heterosexuals, Kinsey Institute Investigators found that Gay people are no more likely to have been smothered by maternal love, been fatherless, or been sexually abused than a straight couple (Bell et al.; Hammersmith et al.). As for things that do cause homosexuality, there are many. Among these are the number of older brothers a male has, the direction of hair whorls, relative finger lengths, age of onset puberty, and even their dominant hand (Myers). Although these may sound crazy, they are scientifically proven. Most importantly, however, is that it is possible to be born Gay. This is important because discriminating against someone because of their sexuality is the same as discriminating against someone because of their race or nationality. It cannot be changed.

One of the more logical arguments is that Gay couples cannot provide the benefits to children that heterosexual couples can. Some will go as far to say that Gay couples influence children to be Gay, but most people can agree that Gay couples will provide a different experience of growing up than that of a heterosexual couple.  In a study on the effects of being raised by same-sex couples,  Mark Regnerus found that “Less than 2 percent of children from intact, biological families reported experiencing sexual abuse of some nature, but that figure for children of same-sex couples is 23 percent”(Cooke). Although living with a Gay family is different, it is not necessarily a bad thing as Regnerus makes it seem. According to Stacey and Timothy J. Biblarz , who conducted a study on the effects of children raised by Gay couples, there are many differences in the children but, “a difference is not a deficit.”  They found that boys raised by gays tend to be more nurturing and less aggressive. Girls tend to aspire to be doctors, lawyers, and in other fields traditionally dominated by men. They did not find an increase, however, in the chances of a child being gay, or their chances of developing a mental illness. These factors remained statistically the same as any child raised in a heterosexual home (Silsby).  Generally, adopting a child is not an easy process and for the most part, anyone that cannot provide a loving, safe home will be filtered out. The chances of a child being sexually abused by their adopted parents is very unlikely today. There is still much opposition to Gay adoption, but much of the argument ties back to ethics rather than logic.

Another common argument is that Gay people cannot have children which is the sole purpose of marriage. According to the Bible, when God created Adam and Eve, he told them to “…Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the Earth…” (Gen. 1.28). At that time, when there were only two people on Earth, this was an essential part of life; but today it is not necessary to keep reproducing. Actually it would be better to reproduce less because we are overcrowding the Earth. According to the current Population Clock, there are now about seven billion people on Earth (Census.gov). The World Wildlife Foundation announced that “Earth is facing a looming ecological credit crunch and the current financial recession pales in comparison.” By 2030, we will need two planets (PHENOMENICA). Obviously, producing children is the least of our worries and the goals of marriage have changed. Traditionally, marriage was not about love but about survival; today,however, it is much more love based. Most people wouldn’t enter into a marriage with someone they didn’t love because life today is much more want focused rather than need focused. This new love based ideology makes anti-gay advocates wonder, if we allow Gays to be married, where do we draw the line? should marriages be extended  to animals, inscest, and poligamy too?  Although all these are very different situations, they tend to be lumped together to argue against the marriage of Gays. Perhaps we should legalize polygamist marriages, and perhaps not. It is not feasible, however, to assume that the legalization of Gay marriage will lead to the legalization of polygamy. They are completely different battles. Another way to think of it is with the concept of Choice outlined by Andrew Sullivan:

….Some people are constitutively attracted only to members of the same sex. By contrast, no serious person claims there are people constitutively attracted only to relatives, or only to groups rather than individuals. Anyone who can love two women can also love one of them. People who insist on marrying their mother or several lovers want an additional (and weird) marital option. Homosexuals currently have no marital option at all. A demand for polygamous or incestuous marriage is thus frivolous in a way that the demand for gay marriage is not.

Sullivan presents a logical case to an illogical argument(Chapter 6: The Slippery Slope). This is further proof that not only has marriage changed, but also, allowing same-sex marriages will not make it crumble.

            Regardless of a person’s opinion of Gay marriage and Gay rights, there really shouldn’t be an argument in the eyes of the law. It is true that in some states Civil Unions, or even marriage is available to same-sex couples. However, it isn’t recognized in every state. For example, If a couple gets married in New York and then moves to Texas it will be as if they were never married at all. This can cause huge problems similar to Janice Langbehn’s that should be prevented by the government. We should have learned our lesson in 1956 when segregation of blacks and whites was outlawed in Brown v. Board of Education, and “seperate but equal” came to an abrupt end. However, today Gays are given civil unions rather than an actual marriage and if they are able to be  married it can only be imaginary in some states.. Is this not considered “separate but equal”? And remember, segregation was outlawed because it was much less than equal,as are civil unions. If a straight couple is married, they are married wherever they go. If a Gay couple is married, it can only be in Pro-Gay states. This is segregation. It may not be as obvious as black segregation, but it is there. (Black History Timeline) As can be seen, these arguments against Gay marriage are not valid and do not constitute discrimination in any way.

Roots of Discrimination

One of the biggest reasons for this kind of discrimination is the fact that we don’t learn from history. Most people in today’s world would not discriminate against black people or against people of with disabilities but just a few generations ago, our grandparents were trying to prevent these same minorities from getting rights. I have no doubt that fifty years from now, Gay people will be liberated, but right now they are not. In order to change history we must learn from it. One of the greatest social injustices is the story of African Americans.

There are many similar ideas in both the Gay Right’s movement and the Black Civil Right’s Movement. Blacks have also been around since the beginning of time, and like Gays, cannot help that they were born black. This simple difference in skin color  provided for a new age of white superiority. As with the Gays, I will only speak of the black liberation rather than their entire existence, as it is extensive and their freedom is more important than the historic mistreatment that we are all aware of.

Since we were old enough to read and write the discrimination of colored people has been pounded into our heads in hopes of  teaching us good morals. We all know about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, Rosa Park’s bus seat, and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Dream.” Today, we sit and ponder how such discrimination ever could have taken place. How could anyone ever deny someone freedom simply because of the color of their skin? Just sixty years ago, however, the majority of white people in America felt superior to blacks. We find it hard to believe now, but then it was common practice. Segregation began in 1896, when the “Jim-Crow Laws” were passed. Blacks were free at this time, yet discrimination was still prevalent.The liberation for blacks didn’t begin until May 17th, 1956 when the “separate but equal case” outlined in Plessy v. Ferguson was reversed by the Brown v. Board of Education case. It was decided in a unanimous vote that racial segregation violated the 14th amendment and that separate but equal was, indeed, unequal and unfair.(Black History Timeline)

That court case was arguably the first step in igniting the revolution known as the Civil Rights Movement. In August of 1955, while visiting relatives from Mississippi, a fourteen year old boy from Chicago named Emmett Till allegedly whistled at a white woman behind the counter. He was beaten and shot to death by the woman’s husband and brother. They confessed to the crimes, but the case was acquitted and they got off scot free. On December 1st, 1955 just months after Emmett Till’s death, Rosa Parks, a black woman riding a bus in Montgomery, Alabama was asked to give up her seat to a white man. She refused and was sentenced to jail for breaking the segregation laws. Her refusal sparked interest from Civil Right’s  supporters and they began to boycott the busing system. On November 13th, 1956, in the Browder v. Gayle. case, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the buses segregation policy unconstitutional. On August 28th, 1963, some 250,000 blacks and whites participated in the March on Washington. At this gathering, Dr. Martin Luther King gave one of the most famous speeches in American history; it was entitled “I Have a Dream.” (Black History Timeline)

Finally, a huge break came for the Blacks  on July 2nd, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Right’s Act into law. At its’ most basic level, it gave the federal government power to protect citizens against discrimination on the basis of race, religion, origin, and sex. This was a historic landmark for the Black liberation because they now had the protection of the federal government. By 1986 , such people as Oprah Winfrey  and Bill Cosby became  popular black television stars and in 2009, groundbreaking news that Barack Obama, a black man from Hawaii, had become president spread across the nation.(Black History Timeline)  It took the blacks over fifty years to finally overcome adversity, yet they have. Although the story of the Blacks seems to have little to do with Gays, it makes all the difference. The Black population is living proof that if a group of people wants to make a change, all they need to do is make a big uproar, gain sympathy, and fight.

The Road to Change

            After the Stonewall Riots, the Gay Rights movement changed forever. Today, with leaders like President Barack Obama engaging in the fight to end Gay discrimination we are forever changing as a nation. In 2010, we repealed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that prohibited Gay soldiers to reveal their sexual orientation in the military; and in 2012, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. But the fight is not over. We must now work to repeal the Defense Against Marriage Act which prevents Gay marriages from being recognized by the federal government, and we must end discrimination which is a leading cause of suicide (The New Gay Rights Movement). With these facts presented, we can now make a change. According to Janice Langbehn, we can help the fight. She says:

…First know what is important to you.  For some it’s making sure there are homes or resources for Gay teens who have been kicked out of their homes. Or maybe it’s to fight for marriage equality in your state.  Find your niche and what you are passionate about, then read up on it.  Don’t duplicate the wheel – groups like HRC, GLAAD, or Lambda Legal have done the research – see if you can intern with a local equality group or nationally if you have the ability…(Langbehn).

For just a second forget how you feel morally about Gay people. Imagine if this was your friend, your child, or even yourself. Would you let rights be denied to them, or would you fight for them? If you are not Gay, please put yourself in their shoes for just a moment and realize how difficult it is for them. If you are Gay, know that there are thousands of people fighting for you and for your rights. The bottom line is that we must make this right. Call your friends, your relatives, and even your state legislators. Make signs, protest, and fight against the hate. Not only will this promote love, it will save lives.We have lost too many young people, and caused too many miserable lives. Imagine a world without someone you love. If we don’t fix this,  Gay people struggling to find their way will continue to be knocked down by discrimination Do not wait until it’s too late. It is time to end the hate and spread love and equality.

 

 

 

 

 

Will you be on the right side of history?

(Grammar and spelling will be corrected once I’ve had some sleep)
It is only 6:30am here; however I am unable to sleep because historical arguments begin at SCOTUS in just 30 minutes (10am EST). Today Prop 8, the California law reversing the CA Supreme Court decision allowing for marriage equality in a narrowly defined window.  The proposition was defeated by manipulative and flat out lies to scare the public into voting ‘yes’. Lies including that children will be taught all about “gay sex” in their classroom and everything in between. Thereby overturning marriage equality (by the passage of Prop 8) only 18,000 couple were allowed to keep their marriage licenses. Two very important couples close to me are my sister, Marilyn and her wife Scarlet as well as Kelly (Lisa and my college friend – all the way back to 1986) and his husband Bill. All the other California couples who didn’t seize the opportunity narrow slit of history allowing for marriage equality effectively became second class citizens under the law.

Wednesday SCOTUS hears oral arguments about the constitutionality of DOMA (defense of marriage act) signed into Law by President Clinton in the mid1990’s. when Clinton signed DOMA, Lisa and had been ‘wed’ ( a formal holy union ceremony) for nearly 6 years. We had raised a foster teen from 14-18 yrs old beginning when we were only 23 & 24 yrs old ourselves. We were transitioning Michael our oldest son to live with us, he was 6 yrs old and severely mentally challenged. I will be honest, Lisa and I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to O!A at the time – now it’s all I can think about.  In recent years, the Obama Administration stopped defending DOMA also finding it unconstitutional; however Boehner finds it his more and public servant calling to defend DOMA.

When Lisa was forced to die from an catastrophic brain aneurysm in February 2007, my reoccurring  feeling of not being good enough slapped me in the face. For 8 hours, I begged and even tried to sneak my way through the code locked doors to be with Lisa. I think of how terrified Lisa felt in her final hours – restrained and unable to use the entire right side of her body. As they sedated her, drilled a hole in her head to relive the rising pressure in her brain, was she able to ever ask for the kids and me verbally or with ASL? I will never know. What I do know are my repeated attempts to reach the hospital operator no less than 15 times in 8 hours, according to my cell records.  I did this in an attempt to bypass the lazy and apathetic admitting clerk who wanted nothing to do with my family. In the first 20 minutes of our family’s arrivals, I was told I was not the same as other families by Garnet Fredericks words “you are in an anti-gay city and state”. This was not some cautionary warning because even after Ryder Trauma received or family’s legal documents including advanced directives, living wills, medical power of attorney and wills – we were ignored and I watched or the other families at Ryder Trauma, at Jacksin ‘memorial (Miami) escorted behind those code locked doors to their loved ones.

Even today 6 years and county since Lisa’s death, I relive those eight hours in my waking thoughts and nightmares. Not a ‘poor is me’ but the pain for the pain our children endured at JMH that day and the fear I have that Lisa thought I abandoned her in her greatest time of need.

You would think out story ends there because waiting 8 hours to be with your wife, partner soulmate is cruel enough;however that was just the beginning .  The children and I are still treated as “less than” for the ensuing 6 years by our government.

First, came Lisa’s Death certificate from Florida, which I can’t even request myself. It’s true I have to go through the Connecticut funeral home who provided the initial services for Lisa’s Funeral Mass in her hometown. That death certificate it self is also one big slap my face… it lists Lisa’s status is listed as “single” effectively erasing 18 years of commitment to each other and our children.

You might think its not a big deal but having jointly adopted our four children (from WA state foster care) with both of us listed as “mother” and “mother” it is a legal quagmire that I still battle every day. The children’s death benefit couldn’t start from SSA until I could get the death certificate.

Then an even more difficult piece, which I am reticent to delve because it pulls the veil back on strained family and friend relationships.  Lisa and I planned it would be me that died first- I am the one with MS after all.  I can count on more than 2 hands the number of people who shook my hand or hugged me at Lisa’s funeral and Memorial who said “anything you need- just ask”. The sad truth is the number of people I can still count on today, 6 years later, only fills up one hand. Don’t get me wrong those five people I cherish everyday and thank God they are there for the kids and me.

There was only a bit of debt we took on separately – credit cards or student loans only in Lisa’s name.  It would stand to reason, if I signed now promissary notes, I shouldn’t be responsible for them.  However, even after providing these companies like Radio Shack or Mary’s with Lisa’s death certificate – they said that I was responsibility for the debt also and so those have been charged off as bad debet even though I had nothing to do with them, negatively effect my credit report regardless.

Probably the worst of all is SSA. When I fell down 11 stairs, while working, in August 2007 and then had emergency back surgery several months later- it was apparent that my employer of nearly 20 years wouldn’t/couldn’t  want to wait the time necessary to see if I could come back given this devastating injury coupled with my MS. So as I drew Workman’s comp and the children received Lisa SSA benefits from March 2007-2012) we were getting by. Then almost a year ago, SSA decided by some rule they are unable to give to me- the children should draw on my SSA disability instead of Lisa’s. wouldn’t seem like much of a big deal until they offset the SSDI benefits from my Workman’s. the end result – I lost over 55% of my gross income with only 30 days notice. Not easy with 3 teens and one in a 4 year university.

The kicker is that SSA says they haven’t dealt with a case such a mine with a deceased mother, disabled mother – with jointly adopted children (not second parent adoptions).

Now our family becomes a test case for all those coming after us – both with hospital visitation and now the SSA (and the other federal rights I’m not entitled to).  If you still don’t understand the need to overturn DOMA, my hope is that you see it goes way beyond just a marriage license. 6 years after Lisa’s death I still have to go through the funeral home to get a certified copy of Lisa’s death cert, it took my 3 years to get copies of her medical records in Miami, whereas her parents received Lisa’s records in just 3 months (even though I’m the executor of Lisa’s estate) in just 3 months without her parents even requesting them.  I have never received an apology from JMH, and now SSA arbitrarily decides that some rules require the children to draw on my SS# and that I may have an overpayment by almost 50K due to rule change.

Marriage Equality and finding DOMA unconstitutional means so much more to the millions of LGBT families than many of even know until thrown into a situation where it is obvious we are second class citizens, and at the federal level, we have no legal recourse.

Please wear the color red today and Wednesday to show your support of SCOTUS hearing these cases – a historical event I will have to follow from 3000 ,lies away, but I am there with all those I have met along my journey.
Peace

Important Legislation in Florida

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Contact:  Nadine Smith, Executive Director, Equality Florida

(727) 386-8123 / nadine@eqfl.org

 

 

BIPARTISAN SUPPORT EMERGES FOR STATEWIDE DOMESTIC PARTNER PROTECTION;

SENATE COMMITTEE SET TO VOTE TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 19

With widespread bipartisan support from government and community leaders throughout the state, the Florida Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs will hear the “Families First” bill on Tuesday, February 19.  The bill, introduced by committee chair Senator Eleanor Sobel (D), would allow gay couples and unmarried Floridians access to key legal protections for their families.

 

Nearly half of Floridians already live in a community that has a domestic partnership registry, including Palm Beach, Pinellas County, Volusia County, Orange County, Broward County, Miami-Dade County, Key West, Tampa, Orlando, Gainesville, Tavares, Clearwater and North Miami.
A statewide law would ensure all Floridians access to protections. Leaders who have voiced their support include Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer (D), St Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster (R), Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn (D), Kissimmee Commissioner Cheryl Grieb (D), Orange County Commissioner Jennifer Thompson (R), Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe (D), Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie (R), Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower (D).  Former elected leaders are weighing in too.  Former Orange County Commissioner John Martinez (R), former Gulfport City Council member Bob Worthington (R) and  former Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti.

 

The Families First bill will simplify the process for providing important legal protections to domestic partners, no matter where they live in the state.

 

“In the past year, Florida has seen a wave of support for domestic partner registries – affecting both gay and straight couples – through the passage of legislation in numerous municipalities,” said Nadine Smith, Executive Director ofEquality Florida.  “It is vital that there is a cohesive, statewide policy in place, eliminating obstacles and hardships that no one would want inflicted upon their own family.”

 

The hearing comes six years to the day that Janice Langbehn’s life partner of 18 years, Lisa Pond, died at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital.  Janice was denied access to visit Lisa, who had collapsed as the couple and their four children prepared to leave for a cruise.

 

The case drew national attention and eventually prompted President Obama to issue an Executive Memo requiring hospitals that receive Medicaid funding to treat domestic partners as family.  The President called Janice from Air Force One to announce the change.  That memo makes creating a means to establish a domestic partnership all the more urgent. (In 2011 the President presented Janice, a self-described “accidental activist,” with the Presidential Citizens Medal).

 

– 30 –

 

 

 

Kersten Communications

2450 NE 135th Street

Suite 604

North Miami, FL 33181

tel: 305.974.2201 / cell: 305.458.3639

Communicating with Integrity

 

my missteps

December 6, 2012

History happened at 12:01am in the State of Washington.  Not only did same-sex couples line up to get their legal marriage licenses all over the state BUT Washington State marked a wave of change in the fight for equality.  Washington along with Maine and Maryland broke the long running streak of 32 voter losses over the years when marriage equality was a ballot measure.  Minnesota also defeated an attempt to change their state constitution to define marriage between one man and one woman. National polls are also turning in the favor of marriage equality with percentages running just over 50% of the population who support marriage equality.  However, as my community celebrates these historic moments, there is still so much to do both Nationally and Internationally.

I have tried for weeks to think of what to say about this event and trying to update my blog, which as been silent for too long.  And I find myself incredibly stuck because of my personal loss as well as what also needs to be accomplished.  We still need to have ENDA (Employment Non Discrimination Act) to a pass congress.  Then there is DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) defining marriage between one man and one woman.  LGBT individuals still face housing discrimination in way too many states and jurisdictions.

Do not get me wrong – my heart is overjoyed as I see all the pictures of couples getting legal marriage licenses in Washington last night and from here on out.  I feel some amount of guilt because I didn’t fight hard for equality and sooner in my life.  Lisa and I had our Holy Union back in 1991.  We committed ourselves to one another in front of family, friends and God.  We took our vows as seriously as any committed legally married couple.  Maybe that was my mistake?  Lisa and I worked in jobs were we could be “out” beginning in 1994 and when she left her State Social Work job to stay home and raise our foster/adoptive kids we only had to pay one year of health benefits separately for her because WA state allowed for Domestic Partners to receive life/death/disability and health insurance as long as we signed a paper and provided our Holy Union certificate.  So since 1998, we felt “equal” to our straight friends and co-workers.  How could I be so damn naive?

Very early on in 1988 and 1989 when we went to buy a car together we drove up and down car row in Tacoma and dealer after dealer said they would not sell us a car “together” until we met Preston Glaude at South Tacoma Honda.  It was about our 8th dealership in two days and before we even got to the application – we both were blunt and said will you sell a car to two woman, both of us on the title?  I said I don’t even want to look, get our hopes up maybe even do a test drive and then get to the application and be told sorry only one or the other can be on the title.  Preston looked at us like we were aliens and said  ”why wouldn’t I sell you a car?” So since 1988 we have bought all our new and used cars at STH from Preston.  It never occurred to me until recently, that I let opportunities for bigger change slip through my hands.

Foster Parenting was a bit nerve-wracking also but only because we were only 22 and 23 when we applied for our license and what the heck did we know about raising kids.  We were more worried that the child’s room was suitable in our rental house than we would be turned down because we were gay.  Adoption was our next step and we made a calculated decision on two fronts to guarantee we could start a family – one we wanted a child with disabilities which we felt capable of handling and second a child who was considered hard to place.  We already knew a gay couple in Tacoma who adopted from WA state and besides I worked for the agency that did adoptions.  We literally picked Michael from a book of hundreds of kids just waiting for a forever family.  Once we adopted Michael and “proved” ourselves as very capable parents – well 3 more kids came without hesitation and truthfully we could have just as easily wound up with 6 kids and 4, being gay was not an obstacle in the adoption process.  Again, I feel   as if I did a huge misstep with my community – this was back in 1996 to 1999, why didn’t we ever think to go and apply for a marriage license and push the issue socially.  I have no good answer and definitely feel I let our community down as I look back.

So here it is 16 years AFTER our first adoption and we have marriage equality in WA state.  I wonder if all my missed opportunities played into my decision to speak up when Lisa died.  As I try continually process my decision to go public – my guess is that I am trying very hard to make up for all the times Lisa and I could have stood up for our community.  We lived in such a bubble – besides being denied to buy a car together 24 years ago, we didn’t face direct discrimination for our relationship.  Our school district understood that we were mom and mom and when it came to Father’s day – to ask the kids which Uncle or Grandpa they were make a gift or card for.  Especially once David and Katie went to Waldorf and only had 12-14 kids in their class and they knew other kids with two moms it was an issue lost again because of who we surrounded ourselves with.  Both our families readily accepted our kids as their nieces, nephews and grandkids.

I admire anyone who is “before their time” on social justice issues.  I truly hope that the momentum for equality continues and the waves of change ripple out to all communities until everyone enjoys true freedom and equality for who they are as a person and that is all.  Happy Marriage Equality Day Washington State!

The shooting at Family Research Council

The shooting yesterday at the Family Research Council is disgusting on every level. Violence is never a way to deal with discourse. What hit me as I read the immediate response from 25 LGBT groups condemning the shooting is when was the last time FRC or NOM and the rest sent an open letter condemning the beating or shooting of gays? What came to mind is the lesbian couple in Texas last month…. The condemnation from so many LGBT groups so quickly even BEFORE anything concrete is known about the shooter’s intentions leaves me wondering when the same will happen when more of my brothers and sisters are targeted for violence on a daily basis?

Quiet News

http://psbottomline.com/feature-2/behind-the-quiet-more-than-a-short

BEHIND THE QUIET MORE THAN A SHORT –

By PJ Maytag –

Filmmaker Lauren Fash and Producer/Actress/Writer Susan Graham heeded a call. No, not my phone call, but rather, one from a higher source on the evolutionary plane. It led to their collaboration on the powerful new short, Quiet, which Lauren directed and Susan produced/wrote, and starred in, opposite Jaclyn Betham. I’d rather not hedge your expectations by saddling it with expository spoilers – let’s just let it suffice to say this moving short explores a love story, twists of fate, and the meaning of family in a way that’ll resonate for anyone who’s ever been in love. I had the opportunity to chat with the ladies over the phone last week in preparation of it being shown at this year’s ShortFest.

TBL: Right before the credits roll, the film is dedicated to the memory of Lisa Pond. Who was she, and how did she inspire this film?

Lauren Fash: When we were coming up with the idea for Quiet we came across a story about a woman named Janice Langbehn, and she was actually denied the right to say goodbye to her partner, Lisa Pond, in the hospital in Miami in 2007. We read about the incident – basically they were on vacation with their small children and it was their 15-year anniversary. They were in Miami getting ready to leave on a cruise and Lisa collapsed. She was taken to the hospital in Miami.  When Janice went there, a social worker walked up to her and said, ‘You’re in an antigay city and you don’t have any rights here and if you don’t show me this, this and this, you’re not going to see her.’

Whoa!

LF: Yeah, So Janice said, ‘I do have those legal documents.’ She had the power or attorney and a living will; they had done everything because Janice was sick with MS. They had already gone through all these extremes that most straight couples don’t go through – you don’t think about that stuff until later in life. So they refused to let her see her. They refused to let her say goodbye. They only told her she was dying. They wouldn’t let the children in to see her or say goodbye to their mother. We read this article and we were horrified by it.

Janice actually got in touch with us right before we started filming and I talked to her for about 1½ hours. She told me the entire story. She’s the one who told me the social worker said it was an ‘antigay state.’ I tried to put it in the movie but I just couldn’t. It was so heavy-handed I wasn’t sure anybody would believe it.

So this project has morphed into much more. I see on IMDB that you are doing an actual documentary about their story now, correct?

LF: Right. So we’ve been in touch with Janice for over the past year and half. When the film was completed we flew to Washington to show her the film at her house, and we met her for the first time. We got a crew together to film Janice’s reaction to the film. I was so moved by just talking to her over the phone, and by her story and the way she told it and I just felt we needed to share it with people. We literally had her look into the camera and tell her story and we’ve made it into a short documentary.

We’re making a feature version of Quiet, as well.

OK, I was going to ask, because it seems like so many Shorts these days are shopping them to make a feature.

LF: A lot of filmmakers do this, it’s kind of like insurance. It’s like, ‘Hey, this is what I can do, this is my potential and the potential of the story.’ And that’s what we did with Quiet. As our relationship with Janice evolved and the project evolved, we realized the most powerful thing in Quiet was Janice herself. Quiet [the film at ShortFest] was inspired by her story, so it was fictional characters.

In the feature we’ve decided to tell her story and literally cast her and Lisa and their children as well. I mean these women were saints, you know? I think anyone watching this movie cannot argue the fact that what happened to them was wrong and this needs to change. It’s wrong in our country and it’s time to make it right.

Susan, how did you get involved in this?

Susan Graham: I worked on a couple of things [with Lauren] before and I think Lauren mentioned the article about Lisa. I always knew that I wanted to do a short film about patient medical rights in some way, because I thought it was powerful. I’m familiar with medicine in general coming from a medical family and I thought her story was so heartbreaking. At the time, I didn’t want to stick to it too exact because – our different artistic rights, and we were trying to do something a little different with this short film. But through time and getting to know Janice we want to do that for the feature.

And, in looking to create the short film I just wanted to have the best story teller I could, so I got with Lauren and we teamed up and co-wrote the short and co-produced it and she directed it and I’m in it.

In Quiet, the feature length film, you said it is actually going to be Janice’s story?

LF: Yes. It’ll basically be, the film will be about their relationship and also showcase that event so people can see who this happened to. [They were] not just your everyday couple. They literally raised 25 foster children – most of whom were either disabled or HIV positive. They legally adopted four children. Their first son suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. They are just lovely, caring people and for this to happen to them, of all people, it’s just heartbreaking!

Do you think with the feature film you are looking for a broader audience? I think there are a lot of people in the heterosexual community that don’t even realize these civil rights are being denied.

LF: This is going to educate people on a subject that a lot of people know nothing about. You know, there’s this argument going on around the country about gay marriage and well, “it’s a sacred act” and all that. At the heart of it, it’s a human right, and this film showcases the importance of having the same rights so everyone is protected.

You are bringing up the fact that we, as a society, have to look at a broader definition of “family.” How do you think this film is going to start that dialog?

SG: I think that’s a great question, we haven’t been asked that. One of things we focused on in the short film is we really wanted to show how for a lot of young people, (but for especially the homosexual community), our friends, our family, our families have not accepted them. But I think Janice and Lisa created a family in a nontraditional way – but it didn’t make them any less their kids, or their mothers.

I think it’s a really beautiful, wonderful and important story that everyone can identify with. We all relate to the themes of love and loss. And that’s why this film isn’t just for the LGBT community. It’s for people who may have not thought about this issue, in that way. A personal connection with something that changes your mind. And for Janice and Lisa there’s no way to get around the fact that there was a huge, huge injustice.

If You Go –

Quiet is part of the “Love, Lust and Other L Words” Program, Sunday , June 24th at 3 pm, at Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs.

I have Lisa to thank

http://www.gomag.com/article/100_women_we_love3/49

100 Women We Love

June 15, 2012
by Shannon Leigh O’Neil with destiny DeJesus
Bookmark and Share
photo by Dmitrios Kambouris
Janice Langbehn
On October 12, 1991, Janice Langbehn and Lisa Marie Pond married and created a loving family dedicated to helping abused and neglected children. In 1992, they became the first openly gay foster parents in the country—and over the years, Langbehn and Pond (who shared a background in psychology and social work) raised 25 children and formally adopted four with special needs. As a 15th anniversary gift, Langbehn surprised Pond and the kids with a gay family cruise in February 2007—but before they left port, Pond suffered a brain aneurysm. The emergency room in Florida barred Langbehn from her partner’s room despite legal documents giving her the power of attorney. Pond passed away, tragically, alone. Though grieving, Langbehn spoke out against the injustice, prompting President Obama to issue a Memorandum allowing same-sex couples the same hospital visitation rights as other families. “Losing Lisa just five years ago was a defining moment in my life; being denied access to hold her hand during her final eight hours of life will haunt me forever,” Langbehn says. “With the loss of Lisa so suddenly and unexpectedly, it compelled me to speak up and make a difference.” In 2011 Obama awarded Langbehn the nation’s second-highest civilian distinction, the Presidential Citizens Medal, an honor that shares her mantel with awards from GLAAD, HRC, Lambda Legal and others. “I don’t believe, for a person to make difference, it needs to come from such a major life event,” she says. “All it takes is a passion and a desire to change something. One voice can make an impact.”

a well put thank you (from U of Houston- Clear Lake)

I was fortunate to speak to the BSW program at U of Houston at Clear Lake last weekend.  It is letter’s like the one below that inspires me that our family’s story is worth telling.

Peace

~~~~~~~~

Hello,
my name is Kxxxx (name removed for privacy) and I am a student at the University of Houston- Clear Lake. Last Saturday you shared your story, which I’m sure isn’t easy, especially since you said you are a shy person. I would like to say thank you personally for speaking at UHCL- your story is powerful. I also would like to tell you that you left my boyfriend speechless. You see this is my second semester at UHCL and I am always talking his ear off about all the injustices in this world. Although he is supportive and lends his ear I know he cannot imagine anything beyond what I have to say. The event last Saturday I knew would open his eyes and help him understand that the LGBT community is oppressed and discriminated against. Although he didn’t cry like I did, I know he felt great sorrow for not only your lose but also how you and your children were treated.
I am glad you tell you story, it really is opening eyes.
Thank you again Janice.

WH Conference – Sec. Sebelius on LGBT Health in Philly, PA 2.16.12

http://www.hhs.gov/secretary/about/speeches/sp20120216.html

White House Conference on LGBT Health

February 16, 2012
Philadelphia, PA

Good morning.  It’s great to be here with you in Philadelphia for the first in a series of White House LGBT conferences we’ll be hosting around the country. The goal of these conferences is partly for us to talk about some of the work we’ve been doing that might be of interest to you.  But it’s also an opportunity for you to share your knowledge and suggestions with us.  And I hope you’ll do that as the day goes on.

Today, I want to talk about one of the core principles that guide this Administration: fairness.

As you heard the President say in his State of the Union, we believe America is at its best when everyone lives and works by the same set of rules and all Americans get a fair shot at success.

That idea is not new.  It’s written into the Declaration of Independence.  And it’s at the heart of the American dream: the belief that if you work hard, if you’re responsible in your community, if you take care of your family, then that’s how you should be judged.  Not by what you look like, not by how you worship, not by where you come from, and not by whom you love.

This belief means ensuring that LGBT Americans have the same protections and opportunities as their neighbors, colleagues, and family members.  And over the last three years, this Administration has undertaken a broad agenda to do just that.

Since the President took office, we’ve ensured that Americans can serve and protect their country no matter whom they love.  The Justice Department has stopped defending the constitutionality of the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act.’  We’ve fought for, and secured, the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Junior Hate Crimes Act to make assaults based on sexual orientation or gender identity a federal hate crime.

And we’ve ended an outdated and misguided policy that banned individuals with HIV/AIDS from entering the U.S. – a policy that broke apart families, hurt our economy, and went against our fundamental values.

These are important achievements that many of you have spent years fighting for.  But know that there are still many areas where we can do more to ensure equal opportunity for LGBT Americans.  One of those areas is health care.

When this Administration took office, the health care system wasn’t working for a lot of Americans.  But it was especially broken for LGBT Americans.

Given the discrimination they sometimes faced in the workplace, LGBT Americans often had a harder time getting access to employment-based coverage.  And many childless LGBT adults with low incomes fell through the cracks in our health insurance market, unable to afford private insurance but unable to qualify for Medicaid either.

Even LGBT Americans who had insurance often struggled to get the best care in a health care system where some health care providers didn’t understand – or didn’t want to understand – their needs.

That wasn’t right. All Americans, regardless of where they live or their age, sex, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity, have a basic right to get the care they need.

That’s why we fought for the Affordable Care Act, a law that will ensure for the first time that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health insurance, and better care.  The law makes a wide range of improvements.  But today I want to tell you about five key new benefits that all LGBT Americans need to know about.

First, the law is protecting LGBT Americans from many of the worst abuses of the insurance industry.  A year and half ago, insurers could cancel your coverage when you got sick just because you made a mistake on your application.  Or put a lifetime limit on the amount of care they’d pay for, meaning your coverage often ran out when you needed it most.

Thanks to the new Patient’s Bill of Rights, these practices and other abuses have now been banned.

Second, the law is helping millions of LGBT Americans gain access to the care they need to get and stay healthy.  Because of the law, most Americans with health insurance now have access to free preventive care including cancer screenings, vaccinations, blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, and HIV testing.

And as of last fall, insurers can no longer deny coverage to children because of pre-existing health conditions – a protection that will extend to every single American in 2014.  Similarly, insurers will no longer be able to turn someone away just because he or she is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

The third thing the law is doing is bringing competition and transparency to the health insurance market.  Under the law, we created a new consumer website healthcare.gov where, for the first time, you can compare all the insurance plans in your market and find the one that works best for you.

And earlier this year, we added a tool to make sure LGBT families can specifically search for plans that cover same-sex domestic partners.  When we first launched the site, this was one of the first suggestions we received from LGBT stakeholders, and we made sure it happened.

In two years, LGBT Americans will have even better access to care when a new competitive insurance marketplace made up of state based Affordable Insurance Exchanges is created.  This will mean that whether you lose your job, or change jobs, or retire early, or start a business, you’ll have somewhere to go to get affordable coverage.

The fourth key point to remember about this law is that it makes historic investments in our health care workforce in the communities where it’s needed most.  With new resources from the law, we’re adding new community health centers and helping existing health centers expand their hours and add new services.

We’re also placing thousands of primary care providers in underserved communities.  And through our Health Resources and Services Administration, we continue to train these providers in culturally competent care for LGBT patients.

Finally, the law helps us better understand the specific health challenges LGBT Americans face.  Last year, our department released a plan to integrate sexual orientation- and gender identity-specific questions into our national surveys, allowing us, for the first time, to gather the data we need to strengthen our efforts to improve LGBT health.

For all these reasons, the Affordable Care Act is a huge step forward in closing LGBT health disparities.

But, when it comes to fighting for the equal rights of LGBT Americans, this Administration hasn’t waited for Congress to act.  What we’ve found is that we can make a huge difference by simply using the administrative power we already have, and over the last three years, we’ve put it work.

I’m sure that many people in this room know the story of Janice Langbehn and her partner Lisa Pond. 

While on a family vacation, Lisa experienced a brain aneurysm and was rushed to a local hospital.  When Janice arrived with the couple’s children they were denied access to Lisa.  Janice was Lisa’s partner of 18 years.  They were raising three beautiful children together.  But in the opinion of that hospital, they were not a family.

Over the next few hours, Lisa Pond died alone as her partner and children desperately tried to get to her side.

As a daughter, a wife, and a mother, it pains me to think of the anguish that Janice and her family went through in the hours, days, and weeks that followed Lisa’s death.  And in 2010, under a memorandum issued by the President, HHS used our authority to make sure this never happens again by establishing full visitation rights for LGBT patients. 

And our efforts haven’t stopped there.  When confronted with the tragic suicides of LGBT teens around the country who had been bullied, this Administration launched a historic effort to stop bullying of LGBT children and youth in their homes, schools, and communities.

For the first time, we put a national spotlight on this issue when President Obama held the first ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention.  And that same day, we launched a new website called StopBullying.gov, a one-stop shop where kids, teens, parents, and educators can go online to learn about preventing or stopping bullying.

Our department also continues to support organizations around the country that are finding innovative ways to improve the health of LGBT Americans.  Last year, for example, we awarded nearly $250,000 to the Fenway Institute in Boston to create a National Training and Technical Assistance Center that will help community health centers and their providers learn the best ways to provide culturally competent care to LGBT patients.

And we’ve committed to turning the tide in our nation’s fight against HIV and AIDS, a disease that has taken far too many of our LGBT brothers and sisters.  When this Administration came into office, our domestic HIV/AIDS strategy was basically to keep doing what we were doing.  We weren’t adapting fast enough.  Agencies and programs weren’t working together well enough.  We had lost some of the urgency we had in the 90s.

And yet 50,000 Americans continued to become infected with HIV each year –more than half of them were gay men.  In some large cities, half of the African-American gay men were HIV positive.

Under President Obama’s leadership, we adopted a national strategy that has breathed new life into the fight against HIV and AIDS by focusing our resources on the populations that are most affected.  The result is more momentum behind our domestic HIV/AIDS efforts today than we’ve had for nearly a decade.

We can’t make up for years of neglect with one policy or one grant.  But collectively, these efforts are putting us on a path to ensuring all LGBT Americans get the care they deserve.

And this is just one department.  Throughout the Administration, every department is looking for these same opportunities to erase disparities for LGBT Americans.  These efforts may not make the headlines.  But added together, these administrative changes can make a huge impact.

We know there is work left to do.  Around the country, there are still too many places where fairness is not the rule.

But I am confident that the progress of the last three years will continue because ultimately, the goal we are working towards is the goal that’s at the heart of what this country stands for: the idea that every American, no matter who they are or where they come from, should have the same chance to reach their full potential.

In the last three years, we have begun to push open doors that seemed like they would remain shut forever.  And in the months to come, I look forward to continuing to work with all of you to open even more doors and bring our nation closer to its highest ideals.

Thank you.