Rhode Island civil union bill passes, but pleases no one

The Rhode Island Senate passed a civil union bill 21 to 16 on Wednesday, June 29, which the governor has said he will sign but which LGBT civil rights advocates are not happy with and are urging he veto.

The Rhode Island Senate passed a civil union bill 21 to 16 on Wednesday, June 29, which the governor has said he will sign but which LGBT civil rights advocates are not happy with and are urging he veto.

The bill, passed by the House in May, states that it would give same-sex couples the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities as married opposite-sex couples. But LGBT groups say an amendment providing for extensive religious exemptions from the law “legalizes discrimination against the very status and protections it creates.”

Marriage Equality Rhode Island and several leading LGBT advocacy organizations sent a letter to Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) June 28, asking him to veto the civil union legislation if it includes the amendment. They said the amendment would allow religiously-affiliated “hospitals, day care centers, schools or cemeteries to openly and intentionally discriminate against civil union spouses.” Hospitals, they say, “could refuse to allow a spouse to visit their dying partner or make medical decisions in an emergency situation.”

Fourteen state representatives sent a similar letter to Chafee the day before.

The civil union bill has been a disappointment to many LGBT advocates from the start because a bill for full marriage equality was dropped in April after it failed to gain enough support, even though Democrats hold large majorities in both chambers and Chafee, a long-time supporter of LGBT equality, said he would back it.

But one of the marriage equality bill’s sponsors, openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D), said in a statement in April that “there is no realistic chance for passage of the bill in the Senate,” where Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Newport) opposed it. Fox said he would not move forward with a vote in the House.

The Providence Journal newspaper also reported that Fox said he did not have the votes to pass the bill even in the House, where Democrats hold 65 seats to Republicans’ 10.

Fox instead sponsored the bill for civil unions, a decision that did not go over well with LGBT groups, even before the religious exemption amendment. Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) held a rally at the State House to protest Fox’s decision to drop the marriage equality bill. Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and other groups issued statements criticizing Fox’s decision and calling it “completely unacceptable.”

But the civil union bill went to the House floor on May 19, where Rep. Arthur Corvese (D-North Providence) introduced the amendment regarding religious exemptions.

The amendment exempts religious organizations, religiously affiliated charitable or educational organizations, and their employees, from solemnizing civil unions and from providing related services, facilities, or accommodations.

Religious exemptions were included in New York’s recently passed marriage equality bill, but the Rhode Island amendment goes further and exempts the organizations and individuals from treating civil unions as valid in any way, if to do so goes against their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

There was little debate before the House voted 63-6 to include it in the final bill, which they then passed 62-11.

Chafee, although he supports full marriage equality, has said he will sign the civil union bill.

Interestingly, even opponents of marriage equality oppose the civil union bill. Chris Plante, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage chapter in Rhode Island, issued a statement, saying that civil unions were “a clear threat to the definition of marriage” and to religious liberties.

On June 29, the same day that the civil union bill passed the final legislative hurdle in Rhode Island, Lambda Legal and Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s leading LGBT political group, filed a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court on behalf of seven same-sex couples, claiming that the state’s existing civil union laws do not provide them with full equality.

Two other states—Connecticut and Vermont—also won marriage equality after their highest courts ruled that civil unions were insufficient in providing equal rights and benefits.

Lawsuit seeks marriage equality in New Jersey

Five days after the New York State legislature legalized marriage for same-sex couples, LGBT civil rights supporters in New Jersey are asking the state courts to rule that the state constitution there guarantees same-sex couples marriage equality.

Five days after the New York State legislature legalized marriage for same-sex couples, LGBT civil rights supporters in New Jersey are asking the state courts to rule that the state constitution there guarantees same-sex couples marriage equality.

On June 29, Lambda Legal, a national LGBT legal group, and Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s leading LGBT political group, filed a lawsuit in a New Jersey Superior Court in Trenton on behalf of seven same-sex couples. The lawsuit argues that the state’s existing civil union laws do not provide them with full equality —an equality the state Supreme Court said, in October 2006, is guaranteed by the state constitution.

The plaintiffs say the civil union law violates the equal protection clauses of both the New Jersey Constitution and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit is Garden State Equality, et al. v. Paula Dow, et al., with Paula Dow being the state’s attorney general.

The couples say they have each had difficulties getting their civil unions recognized, and several plaintiffs were prohibited from making medical decisions for their partners when hospital personnel did not know what rights a “civil union” conveyed. Two of the female plaintiffs, after the death of one of their children, had a funeral home question what a civil union meant. All but one of the couples are parents.

Their claim rests in part on a 2006 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling, Lewis v. Harris, in which the court said the state constitution’s promise of equal protection requires that same-sex couples be able to enjoy the same benefits of marriage as opposite-sex couples.

But the majority also said it was up to the legislature to determine whether those benefits are delivered through marriage licenses or a “parallel” structure called by another name. The legislature responded by enacting civil unions, which became legal in February 2007.

In December 2008, however, the legislature-appointed Civil Union Review Commission, after an extensive evaluation and series of public hearings, found that “the separate categorization established by the Civil Union Act invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children.”

“In a number of cases,” the Commission wrote in its final report, “the negative effect of the Civil Union Act on the physical and mental health of same-sex couples and their children is striking, largely because a number of employers and hospitals do not recognize the rights and benefits of marriage for civil union couples.”

A marriage equality bill failed to pass the state Senate in January 2010, and supporters and opponents attributed the failure in large part to the defeat of Democratic Governor Jon Corzine the previous November, as well as the opposition of then-incoming Republican Governor Chris Christie.

Lambda Legal, in March 2010, filed a motion to reactivate the case in the state Supreme Court, asserting that civil unions did not provide the same benefits as marriage, as evidenced by the report of the Civil Union Commission, and thus did not meet the requirements of the court’s 2006 ruling.

The court in June 2010 refused to hear the case, in a 3-3 decision that was one short of the four needed to grant a hearing. The court said the case must first go through the trial court process in order to develop “an appropriate trial-like record”—which Lambda Legal hopes to do with its current lawsuit.

“Garden State Equality has received reports from multitudes of civil union couples who have told us their employers refuse to provide the equal rights and benefits the civil union law mandates,” said Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality. “It’s time for the courts to fix this mess and give full marriage equality to New Jersey’s same-sex couples and their children.”

In a related development, New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), the state’s only openly gay legislator, introduced a new marriage equality bill June 13. And New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney on June 20 apologized on the floor of the Senate for not voting in favor of marriage equality in January 2010, when the measure gained only 14 of the 21 votes it needed to pass. He called his abstention “the biggest mistake of my legislative career” and “a decision based purely on political calculations.”

Sweeney’s apology prompted Goldstein to issue a statement noting that the votes are now there to pass marriage equality in both houses of the legislature, but not enough votes to override an expected veto from Governor Christie. That means, “New Jersey will have to win marriage equality through other means,” said Goldstein.

It could take a while. The 2006 state Supreme Court ruling came only after the case, first filed in 2002, wound its way through the lower courts.

Two other states—Connecticut and Vermont—also won marriage equality after their highest courts ruled that civil unions were insufficient in providing equal rights and benefits.

LGBT suicide prevention conference shows local and national collaboration

Although there has been research dating back to the early 1970s on LGBT suicide risk, it wasn’t widely used by mainstream researchers or mental health care practitioners specializing in suicide prevention, said the director of prevention projects for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Caitlin Ryan

Although there has been research dating back to the early 1970s on LGBT suicide risk, it wasn’t widely used by mainstream researchers or mental health care practitioners specializing in suicide prevention.

That was the message of Dr. Ann Haas, director of prevention projects for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), at a recent gathering to focus on preventing suicide among LGBT people.

The “Symposium on LGBT Suicide Prevention: A Call to Action,” held in Waltham, Massachusetts, on June 18, drew more than 120 medical and mental health practitioners, social workers, leaders of LGBT organizations, and policy makers.

The meeting was sponsored by Greater Boston chapter of the AFSP and represented the first time a local chapter of AFSP has held a conference focused on the LGBT community. And AFSP officials are hopeful it is a meeting that will serve as a model for similar gatherings in other cities around the country.

Among the topics in focus at the symposium were creating safe spaces for LGBT people from youth through old age, the role of the media, making LGBT mental health a public policy priority, the impact on mental health of both coming out and social stigma, and suicide prevention in transgender communities.

Nancy Farrell, symposium co-chair and a board member of the Greater Boston chapter of AFSP, said the decision to hold the symposium predated the recent media attention on LGBT suicide.

The national AFSP organization sponsored a 2007 conference in partnership with the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Attendees looked at the state of knowledge, how to apply what was known, and where further research was needed. Out of that conference came a 40-page consensus report, published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Homosexuality.

That paper, with Haas as the lead author, influenced the creation and direction of the Boston chapter’s conference, said Farrell.

At the June 18 meeting, Haas noted that two previous national reports on suicide prevention—the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ 2001 “National Strategy for Suicide Prevention” and the Institute of Medicine’s 2002 “Reducing Suicide, a National Imperative,” included little about the LGBT community. “Reducing Suicide” devoted a page and a half to discussing gay youth as a risk group, Haas said, but there was nothing in the 300-page report about the reasons for that risk or about LGBT adults.

Also at the symposium was keynote speaker Dr. Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University. Ryan told the audience about her experiences as a practicing social worker helping LGBT youth and about the results of her research.

She said it is important to change an outdated mindset that families are the “enemies” of LGBT youth. Families that reject their LGBT children, she said, often do so out of an underlying sense of concern about the harm that might befall them because they are LGBT. By helping these families to see the impact of their rejection of their children, Ryan said, we can better help them to support their LGBT children.

Ryan said her Family Acceptance Project has created tools for helping both families and health care professionals and that she is trying to raise money to make them available more widely and for a wider range of literacy levels. (They are currently available in English and Spanish at familyproject.sfsu.edu)

Ryan also credited that the Greater Boston chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays as “the leader in the country in taking our work and turning it into practice” through their work with families and youth.

AFSP officials said they will be preparing a memo for other ASFP chapters about the event, including details of partners, program, costs, and breakout session discussions. Farrell said a few chapters in other states have expressed interest in sponsoring similar events.

NY vote pressures GOP to weigh in

The news that New York State passed a marriage equality law last Friday night was big news and, not surprisingly, drew comments from various presidential candidates over the weekend.

Michele Bachmann

The news that New York State passed a marriage equality law last Friday night was big news and, not surprisingly, drew comments from various presidential candidates over the weekend.

President Obama, who made news the night before the New York vote by saying almost nothing in support of the marriage equality bill, said nothing following the bill’s passage either. But, Shin Inouye, a spokesman to the LGBT media for the White House, said, “The President has long believed that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights and legal protections as straight couples. That’s why he has called for repeal of the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ and determined that his Administration would no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA in the courts. The states should determine for themselves how best to uphold the rights of their own citizens. The process in New York worked just as it should.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, trying hard to dodge questions about the viability of his campaign, seemed happy to offer extended remarks about the New York vote. During a bus tour in Iowa on Saturday, he sounded like a modern day Robert Bork.  Bork, in a book following his failed nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, warned that a rising liberalism was causing America to be “slouching towards Gomorrah.” Gingrich, reacting to New York, said it shows the country is “drifting toward a terrible muddle.” He called for the defense of DOMA and said he “would like to find ways to defend that view as legitimately and effectively as possible.”

But Gingrich is struggling to defend his prospects in the Republican presidential race. In the most recent poll –of 400 Republicans likely to participate in next year’s Iowa caucuses, surveyed June 19-21—Gingrich tied for fourth with Rep. Ron Paul, with only 7 percent of the vote each. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney came in first, with 23 percent of the vote. He hasn’t yet said anything specifically about the New York marriage vote, but he has stated repeatedly in the past that he is against legalizing same-sex marriages and he took actions to oppose them while governor of Massachusetts.

Rep. Michele Bachmann landed a surprising second place finish in the Des Moines Register poll, with 22 percent—a virtual tie, given the poll’s plus-or-minus four points margin of error. Godfather Pizza founder Herman Cain came in third with 10 percent; former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty had six percent; former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum had four percent; and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman had two percent.

Bachmann’s strong showing in the poll and the fact that she was on weekend talk shows to promote her formal campaign entrance on Monday, June 27, ensured her views on the New York marriage vote got the most attention.

Bachman said two different things. She said the 10th Amendment protects New York’s right to pass a marriage equality law, and she said that, if elected president, she would push for an amendment to the federal constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman only. At a June 13 debate in New Hampshire, Bachmann had also said she would not, as president, attempt to overturn laws in states, like New Hampshire, that allow same-sex couples to marry.

But news anchor Chris Wallace, during Fox News Sunday, asked her the obvious question: “If you support states’ rights, why do you also support a constitutional amendment which would prevent any state from recognizing same-sex marriage?”

“That’s entirely consistent,” said Bachmann. “The states, under the 10th amendment, have the right to pass any law they like.” And federal legislators, she said, have the right to submit amendments to the federal constitution. She droned on a bit about how she’d prefer the issue be decided through ballot measures but how it will almost certainly end up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court and she’s against “activist” judges. She also echoed a little of Republican rival Rick Santorum’s “consistency” position on same-sex marriage, (Santorum says all state marriage laws should be consistent and ban same-sex marriage).

“Ultimately, with states having various laws,” said Bachmann, “the federal government would most likely weigh in.”

“So, just briefly,” said Wallace, after a minute or two, “you would support a constitutional amendment that would overturn the New York State law?”

Bachmann glanced away and then responded, “Yes, I would. I would. That is not inconsistent.”

The Republican field is generally consistent on the issue of same-sex marriage: Most are against. The exceptions are newly announced candidate Jon Huntsman, a former governor of Utah; and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. Huntsman has indicated he supports civil unions. Paul supports DOMA but says he would not support a federal constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Openly gay candidate Fred Karger is the lone supporter of same-sex marriage; but his name is repeatedly left off most polls and he has been shut out of the first two Republican debates.

New York passes marriage equality

New York State on Friday night, June 24, became the sixth and most populous state to legalize marriage for same-sex couples, after a tense several days past the scheduled end of the legislative session, in which it was unclear if Republican leaders in the state Senate would even allow a marriage bill to come up for a vote.

Stephen Saland

New York State on Friday night, June 24, became the sixth and most populous state to legalize marriage for same-sex couples. After a tense several days past the scheduled end of the legislative session, in which it was unclear if Republican leaders in the state Senate would even allow a marriage bill to come up for a vote, the Senate voted 33 to 29 in favor of the bill. The vote was taken at approximately 10:30 p.m. EDT.

The Assembly, which passed its version of the bill on June 15, voted again on Friday to approve several amendments agreed to by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau), Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), and Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) after they met earlier in the week. The amendments passed the Assembly 82 to 47.

Governor Cuomo, who worked closely with marriage equality advocates and sent an early version of the marriage bill to both houses of the legislature on June 14, signed the bill shortly after the vote on June 24. The law will now go into effect in 30 days.

The delay in the Senate vote, which had both marriage equality advocates and opponents on pins and needles all week, was in part because of the desire of some senators to insert additional religious exemptions—but several other contentious issues also occupied legislators in the last days of the session, including rent control and property taxes.

Skelos and Silver met Tuesday with Cuomo and reached tentative agreement on the rent and tax issues, but it was not until Friday that they reached agreement on religious exemptions to the marriage bill.

The original bill sent by Governor Cuomo to the legislature—and passed by the Assembly—said that “religious corporations” and “benevolent organizations” “shall not be required to provide accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”

The amendments agreed upon Friday added the same exemptions for not-for-profit corporations that are “operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious corporation,” as well as employees who are “managed, directed, or supervised by” any of the above types of organizations.

As private organizations, however, religious groups, including charitable or educational organizations that they operate, supervise, or control, are already free from state human rights laws that require only public “accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges” to be open to all.

The final bill contained one other new component: an “inseverability clause” stating that if any part of the marriage bill is found to be invalid by a court of law, the entire bill will be deemed invalid.

Stephen Saland (R-Poughkeepsie), speaking on the floor of the Senate before the vote, explained that the purpose of that amendment was to make sure that religious organizations would not be liable under anti-discrimination laws, and that any conflicts would be resolved in favor of the religious exemptions.

Saland’s declaration that he would vote yes was the first public confirmation that the bill had enough votes for passage. He told the Senate, “I have to define doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality. And that equality includes within the definition of marriage. . . . My vote is a vote of conscience.”

In the end, Saland was one of four Republicans voting yes. Republican senators James Alesi (R-Monroe) and Roy J. McDonald (R-Saratoga) also voted in favor of the bill, as promised the week before.

One surprise Republican vote was that of Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo), who said that although he is a practicing Catholic, “I cannot legally come up with an argument against same-sex marriage.”

Three Democratic state senators who had voted “no” on a marriage bill in 2009—Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Queens), Shirley Huntley (D-Queens), and Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn)—also voted “yes.”

Senator Tom Duane (D-Manhattan), who is openly gay, spoke to the Senate about his partner, Louis Webre, saying, “Marriage says that we are a family.” The bill, he said, is “going to strengthen my family and all New York families.”

One Democratic senator, Rubén Díaz (D-Bronx) voted against the bill.

New York is now the most populous state with marriage equality. It joins five other states—Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont—and the District of Columbia, in allowing same-sex couples to marry.

It is the third state (and the fourth jurisdiction including the District of Columbia) to enact marriage equality purely through the legislature, with no state Supreme Court ruling requiring the legislature to enact such a law.

With Wednesday’s vote, the percentage of same-sex couples living in states that allow them to marry has thus more than doubled, from 6.9 percent to 14.3 percent, according to an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey by the Williams Institute of UCLA.

And the percentage of the U.S. population living in a state that allows same-sex couples to marry has more than doubled, from 5.1 to 11.4 percent, according to Census 2010 and the Williams Institute.

All eyes now turn to neighboring New Jersey, where Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), the state’s only openly gay legislator, introduced a marriage equality bill June 13.

The New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney on June 20 apologized on the floor of the Senate for not voting in favor of marriage equality in January 2010, when it was defeated. Sweeney’s apology prompted Steven Goldstein, chair of New Jersey’s leading LGBT political group, Garden State Equality, to issue a statement noting that the votes are there to pass marriage equality in both houses of the legislature—but not to override the expected veto from Governor Chris Christie (R). That means, Goldstein said, that “New Jersey will have to win marriage equality through other means.”

When it became clear Friday night that New York would pass marriage equality, Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal issued a statement saying, “Soon there will be a major announcement” regarding marriage equality in New Jersey.

The New Jersey Supreme Court in June 2010 refused to hear a case that claimed the state’s civil union law did not provide full equality. It said the case must first go through the trial court process—making such a process the likely next step for advocates of marriage equality.

UN human rights council passes first ever effort to address LGBT discrimination

The United Nations’ Human Rights Council voted to approve a resolution that expresses “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Susan Rice

The United Nations’ Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva, voted 23 to 19 on Friday, June 17, to approve a resolution that expresses “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The resolution calls for the creation of a U.N. commission to document discriminatory laws, practices, and violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity around the world.  The study is to recommend “how international human rights law can be used to end violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The commission is to submit its report in December, and the Human Rights Council will convene a panel to discuss the report.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission called the vote a “groundbreaking achievement.” And President Obama issued a statement noting that it is the “first time in history” that the U.N. has adopted a resolution “dedicated to advancing the basic human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons.”

“This marks a significant milestone in the long struggle for equality, and the beginning of a universal recognition that LGBT persons are endowed with the same inalienable rights—and entitled to the same protections—as all human beings,” said President Obama’s statement. “The United States stands proudly with those nations that are standing up to intolerance, discrimination, and homophobia.  Advancing equality for LGBT persons should be the work of all peoples and all nations.  LGBT persons are entitled to equal treatment, equal protection, and the dignity that comes with being full members of our diverse societies.”

The U.N. Human Rights Council is comprised of 47 countries.

Countries voting for the resolution were Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Hungary, Japan, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the, United States, and Uruguay.

Countries voting against it were Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Ghana, Jordan, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Moldova, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and Uganda.

The countries of China, Zambia, and Burkina abstained. Two other members—Kyrgyzstan and Libya—were absent. (Libya was suspended from the Council in March.)

The resolution was originally presented by South Africa.

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, said the United States took a “leading role” in the resolution’s adoption, “and we pledge to continue to fight discrimination in any guise and embrace diversity in every form.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement saying the U.S. worked with South Africa and other countries to secure passage.

“The United States will continue to stand up for human rights wherever there is inequality and we will seek more commitments from countries to join this important resolution,” said Clinton.

In an earlier victory at the United Nations, the General Assembly voted last December to restore a reference to “sexual orientation” in a resolution against the killing of vulnerable minority groups—a reference that had been removed only a month earlier. The Assembly then approved the amended resolution.

Schools have right to form GSAs, reminds Department of Education

Schools receiving federal funds must provide equal access to school resources for all student groups, including gay-straight alliances (GSAs), said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a “Dear Colleague” letter to educators on June 14.

Arne Duncan

Schools receiving federal funds must provide equal access to school resources for all student groups, including gay-straight alliances (GSAs), said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a “Dear Colleague” letter to educators on June 14.

That has been true since the passage of the Equal Access Act in 1984, but Duncan’s letter was a reminder that many schools still unlawfully discriminate against GSAs.

The department’s general counsel, Charles Rose, issued a companion set of legal guidelines reiterating the key provisions of the Equal Access Act and schools’ obligations under the Act.

As Duncan explained in the letter, if a public high school allows at least one noncurricular student group to meet on school grounds during “noninstructional” time (lunch, after school, etc.), it may not prevent other noncurricular student groups from doing so, “regardless of the religious, political, philosophical, or other subject matters that the groups address.”

He noted that officials do not have to endorse any particular student organization, as long as they give all student groups the same opportunities to form, convene on school grounds, and have access to the same resources.

The Equal Access Act was originally promoted by conservative religious organizations wanting to protect student Bible study and prayer groups. It was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Westside School District v. Mergens in 1990, a case involving a Bible study group at a Nebraska high school.

More recently, however, it has helped LGBT students and allies in a number of cases in which they challenged schools over the right to form GSAs. At least ten such cases were brought between 1999 and 2010, according to Stuart Biegel, a member of the faculty at the UCLA School of Law and UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. And the LGBT students prevailed in just about every case, Biegel observed in his book, The Right to Be Out.

New cases keep coming, however. In mid May, students at West Bend High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sued their school board in federal court, claiming it had illegally denied them the right to form a GSA.

In his letter, Duncan reiterated statistics from a study by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which found that more than 90 percent of LGBT students in grades 6 through 12 reported being verbally harassed, and almost half reported being physically harassed, during the 2008-2009 school year. High levels of harassment, the study showed, “correlate with poorer educational outcomes, lower future aspirations, frequent school absenteeism, and lower grade-point averages.”

GSAs can help, wrote Duncan. In a press statement praising Duncan’s letter, GLSEN provided supporting evidence. According to GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey, LGBT students in schools with GSAs heard fewer homophobic remarks, were more likely to report that educators intervened when they heard such remarks, experienced less victimization related to their sexual orientation and gender expression and were less likely to feel unsafe. They also felt a greater sense of connectedness to their school community.

And in a separate study published in the May 2011 issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Mark Hatzenbuehler of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health found a positive social environment, including the presence of GSAs, led to a 20 percent reduction in the risk of attempting suicide for youth. There are over 4,000 GSAs in the country, according to GLSEN, and nearly 45 percent of LGBT students attend a school that has one. The first GSA was founded in 1988 at Concord Academy in Massachusetts, a collaboration between a straight student and gay teacher Kevin Jennings.

Jennings later became Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (OSDFS) at the Department of Education, a position he held until last week, when he left for the private sector. Among his other accomplishments, he organized the department’s first-ever LGBT youth conference, held June 6 and 7, at which the GSA letter and guidance was first announced.

The Department of Education’s announcement was not the only piece of federal support for GSAs in the past month. The Department of Adolescent and School Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, awarded the Gay-Straight Alliance Network over $285,000 on June 2 to help launch its new Safe & Healthy LGBT Youth Project, which will assist schools and community-based organizations in reaching LGBT youth. The Network is a national youth leadership organization that trains student leaders, supports student-led GSAs, and operates the National Association of GSA Networks, an organization of more than 30 statewide GSA networks.

And Jocelyn Samuels, senior counselor to the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, cited Hatzenbuehler’s findings in her testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights at a hearing to address bullying, harassment, and intra-student violence.

Duncan’s letter noted that the benefit of GSAs extends beyond LGBT students, those perceived as LGBT, and their family and friends. “By encouraging dialogue and providing supportive resources,” he wrote, “these groups can help make schools safe and affirming environments for everyone.”

Marriage bill in New York going down to the wire

With only a few days remaining in the legislative session, marriage equality took a step closer to reality in New York State this week.

Andrew Cuomo (Photo credit: Pat Arnow)

With only a few days remaining in the legislative session, marriage equality took a step closer to reality in New York State this week, as Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) sent a marriage bill to the State Legislature June 14, and the number of senators expressing their support edged to within one vote of that required for passage.

Governor Cuomo had previously said he would not introduce a bill if he did not believe it had the votes for passage. He said at a press conference June 13, “I believe the votes are there” to pass the bill.

Three Democratic state senators who had voted “no” on a marriage bill in 2009—Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Queens), Shirley Huntley (D-Queens), and Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn)—said June 13 they would vote “yes.” All but one Democratic senator—Rubén Díaz (D-Bronx)—now support it.

The first two Republican senators also expressed their support this week: Senator James Alesi (R-Monroe) and Roy J. McDonald (R-Saratoga). Their votes give the measure a total of 31 of the 32 votes needed for passage.

Alesi had said at a press conference Monday that his support was contingent upon the bill “[taking] into consideration the concerns of religious groups and churches that they will not be forced to perform weddings that they feel they cannot do.” He said the provisions in the 2009 bill that addressed this would be adequate—provisions that said religious organizations would not be required to solemnize marriages of same-sex couples.

The religious exemptions in the bill from Governor Cuomo, however, go beyond those of the 2009 bill. The new bill says that religious groups “shall not be required to provide accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”

As private organizations, however, religious groups are already free from state human rights laws that require only public “accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges” to be open to all.

Senator Greg Ball (R-Putnam) had been one of those pushing for the additional provisions related to religious organizations—although he had also wanted protections for individuals and businesses that had religious objections.

Whether the language of the governor’s bill is enough for Ball remains an open question.

Ball is one of several Republican senators whom the New York Post on June 13 said were considering support of the bill. The Post cited “a highly knowledgeable Senate insider” who said “far more of the [GOP] members are in play than anyone realizes.” The others senators named as possible supporters were: Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau), Charles Fuscillo (R-Suffolk), Betty Little (R-Glens Falls), and Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island), as well as Alesi and McDonald, who did declare their support.

Because passage in the Democrat-controlled Assembly seems more certain. A marriage equality bill has passed the Assembly three times in the past four years. Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell (D-Manhattan) introduced a new marriage bill in that chamber in May, which has gained 68 sponsors, a record for a marriage equality bill.

O’Donnell’s bill exempted religious organizations only from solemnizing marriages but said nothing about facilities or accommodations. O’Donnell said in an interview that he would now be withdrawing his original bill and introducing the governor’s, which the Assembly Judiciary and Rules committees would likely consider on Wednesday, June 15.

Although Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau) opposes marriage equality, he has previously said he would let a marriage equality bill go to the floor. A spokesperson for Skelos’ office, however, said that the decision ultimately rests with the Senate Majority Conference, which could also meet on June 15.

Both chambers will need to act fast if there is any desire to pass a bill this legislative session, which ends June 20.

Judge rejects call to vacate decision in Proposition 8 case

As expected, a federal judge in San Francisco on Tuesday refused to vacate last year’s landmark ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

James Ware

As expected, a federal judge in San Francisco on Tuesday refused to vacate last year’s landmark ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge James Ware of the Northern District of California issued a 19-page decision saying, “The sole fact that a federal judge shares the same circumstances or personal characteristics with other members of the general public, and that the judge could be affected by the outcome of a proceeding in the same way that other members of the general public would be affected, is not a basis for either recusal or disqualification” under federal laws governing the Judiciary. “Further,” said Ware, under the U.S. Code, “it is not reasonable to presume that a judge is incapable of making an impartial decision about the constitutionality of a law, solely because, as a citizen, the judge could be affected by the proceedings.”

The June 14 decision is yet another blow to the efforts of opponents to marriage equality to defend a constitutional amendment they convinced voters to pass in November 2008. In August 2010, Judge Vaughn Walker, then U.S. District Court Chief Judge, ruled that Proposition 8 violates the federal constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. Though Yes on 8 proponents won a stay of Walker’s decision pending their appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, they immediately stumbled on the question of standing.

The state’s governor and attorney general decided not to appeal Walker’s decision, and the legal team challenging Proposition 8 argued that Yes on 8 proponents have no right to appeal the decision on their own.

A 9th Circuit panel heard arguments on the standing issue and asked the California Supreme Court to indicate whether it thinks there is anything in California law that gives Yes on 8 authority to appeal Walker’s decision.

Opponents of Proposition 8 said they believed Yes on 8’s motion to vacate Walker’s ruling was an attempt to salvage some victory from their anticipated defeat on the question of standing.

But in court before Judge Ware Monday, Yes on 8 attorney Charles Cooper said his team genuinely believes that Walker should have disclosed to all parties to the Proposition 8 trial that he has been in a relationship with a man for the past 10 years. Cooper said Walker’s relationship put him in “precisely” the same shoes as the two plaintiff couples challenging Proposition 8. And, as such, he said, a “reasonable person” could believe the judge had a potential to benefit from his ruling striking down Proposition 8.

But Judge Ware seemed highly skeptical of the argument Monday and repeatedly asked for “evidence” that Walker had any interest in marrying. Cooper had none.

“It’s common sense, and a reasonable person would conclude that Judge Walker had an interest in marrying,” said Cooper.

“So, there are not facts to suggest Judge Walker wanted to change his relationship to marriage,” said Ware.

Ware rejected an argument from the team challenging Proposition 8—represented in court Monday by Ted Boutrous. Boutrous argued that Yes on 8 attorneys knew of Walker’s relationship long before he spoke of it to reporters in April this year.  Ware said he did not find articles in 2010 to provide “a basis for imputing to [Yes on 8 attorneys] knowledge of Judge Walker’s same-sex relationship.”

Ware said it is “inconsistent with the general principles of constitutional adjudication to presume that a member of a minority group reaps a greater benefit from application of the substantive protections of our Constitution than would a member of the majority…. [W]e all have an equal stake in a case that challenges the constitutionality of a restriction on a fundamental right.”

Ware did not buy Cooper’s argument that Walker’s failure to disclose his relationship to attorneys before the trial suggested he was hiding a potential conflict of interest.

“Absence of disclosure could equally connote ambivalence or uncertainty in the face of such a weighty question as whether one intends to marry now or in the future, especially when such an intent involves the willingness and participation of a partner for whom the judge cannot answer,” wrote Ware.

Boutrous told reporters Tuesday that Yes on 8 may try to appeal Ware’s decision, but that they could run into issues of standing once again.

Motion to vacate Proposition 8 ruling seems unlikely

SAN FRANCISCO – It now seems unlikely that a federal judge will vacate a landmark decision in which a gay judge ruled that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Vaughn Walker

SAN FRANCISCO – It now seems unlikely that a federal judge will vacate a landmark decision in which a gay judge ruled that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. The evidence? U.S. District Court Chief Judge James Ware said, following a three-hour hearing Monday, that he plans to issue his ruling concerning a motion to vacate within 24 hours.

Judges typically take months to write decisions of consequence, and a decision to vacate the August 2010 ruling from former Judge Vaughn Walker declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional would be of enormous consequence. To expect that Judge Ware would write in 24 hours a decision that would undo two years of litigation—including issues pending now before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court—seems unlikely.

And, there was little in Judge Ware’s questioning of Yes on 8 attorney Charles Cooper during the June 13 hearing in federal court in San Francisco to give proponents of Proposition 8 much to hang their hopes upon.

Ware noted that it is an unusual event when a judge is put in the position of deciding whether a colleague should have recused himself. Judge Vaughn Walker, in August 2010, ruled that the state ban on marriage licenses for same-sex couples violates the federal constitutional guarantees to equal protection and due process. Eight months after that ruling and two months after retiring from the bench, Walker acknowledged to reporters that he himself is gay and that he has been in a relationship for the past 10 years with a man.

The courtroom erupted in laughter Monday morning when Yes on 8 attorney Cooper said that Walker should have disclosed to attorneys before the January 2010 trial on Proposition 8 not only that he had been in a relationship with a man but that he had no interest in marrying that man. Cooper argued that Walker’s longtime relationship was circumstantial proof that Walker would benefit from a ruling that enabled same-sex couples to marry.

Ware challenged Cooper to explain how a longtime relationship constitutes proof that Walker would benefit from such a ruling, noting, “you can be in a longtime relationship without being in it for purposes of marriage.”

But a “reasonable person,” said Cooper, could believe the judge had a potential to benefit from a ruling striking Proposition 8. And Walker’s relationship put him a position “precisely” the same as the two plaintiff couples in the case.

The U.S. Code dealing with “Judiciary and Judicial Procedure” states that “Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” It also states that a judge “shall also disqualify himself” if “He knows that he … has a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy … or any other interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding….”

“What fact would you have court rely on to know that Judge Walker wanted to change his relationship [and marry, as the two plaintiff couples sought to do]?” asked Ware.

“It’s common sense,” said Cooper, “and a reasonable person would conclude that Judge Walker had an interest in marrying.”

“So, there are no facts to suggest Judge Walker wanted to change his relationship to marriage,” stated Ware.

Cooper then sought to persuade the judge that the very fact that Walker did not disclose his relationship to attorneys and did not disclose whether he had any interest in marrying the man reasonably called Walker’s impartiality into question.

“But how does failure to disclose serve as evidence that he wanted to change the relationship?” pressed Ware.

Ted Boutrous, an attorney on the legal team headed by high-profile political attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, said Cooper had no evidence and that Walker was under no obligation to disclose either his sexual orientation or his relationship.

“Where would the disclosure requirements stop?” he asked.

Boutrous also refuted Cooper’s contention that it would be reasonable to presume Walker was “similarly situated” with plaintiffs and wanted to marry his longtime partner.

“Just because people are gay doesn’t mean they’re all alike,” said Boutrous. “Some do want to marry, some don’t…. There is no evidence that Judge Walker intended to get married.”

Judge Walker was not in the courtroom Monday. Judge Ware had excused him from appearing on a second motion before the court—one to require that all copies of the videotape of last year’s trial be turned over to the court. Walker turned over the videotapes and requested to be excused from appearing.

Interestingly, Ware started off discussion of the motion concerning the videotapes by disclosing that, as the court’s new chief judge, he had presented Walker, the retiring Chief Justice, with a personal copy of the trial’s videotape during Walker’s retirement ceremony. Ware started off discussion of the motion to vacate by informing Cooper that he had presided over the marriage of a same-sex couple. Cooper made no response to the same-sex marriage ceremony, but said he would not consider the presentation of the videotapes during the retirement ceremony to be grounds for Ware to recuse himself from this matter.

After hearing brief arguments, Ware ruled from the bench and rejected Yes on 8’s request to have all copies of the videotape turned over to the court. He indicated he would, at a later date, hear arguments on a motion from plaintiffs seeking to allow public release of the videotapes. Ware said he hoped to have a written decision concerning the motion to vacate on the court’s website within 24 hours.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual youth more at risk, federal study finds

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are more likely than their heterosexual peers to be at increased risk for unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol and drug use, risky sexual behaviors, and attempting suicide, according to a groundbreaking new federal study.

Photo Credit: James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual (LGB) youth are more likely than their heterosexual peers to be at increased risk for unhealthy behaviors such as tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use, sexual behaviors that could lead to infection with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, attempting suicide, and violence, according to a groundbreaking new federal study.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released the results of the study, “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12 in Selected Sites—Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, United States, 2001–2009,” on Monday, June 6. It represents the first time the federal government has conducted such a far-reaching analysis of LGB youth.

Researchers analyzed data from “Youth Risk Behavior Surveys” of seven states—Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin—and six large urban school districts—Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, San Diego, and San Francisco. The CDC funds these surveys of high school students every two years at the national, state, and local levels.

States and school districts may choose to collect data on the students’ sexual identity (heterosexual, gay or lesbian, bisexual, or unsure), the gender of their sexual contacts (both genders, opposite gender only, or same gender only), or both. The states and districts studied by the CDC had collected data on sexual identity and gender of sexual contacts for at least two survey cycles.

The CDC found that gay and lesbian students (and those who have sex only with a person of the same gender, regardless of how they identify themselves) had higher risks than heterosexual students in seven of 10 major health risk categories: behaviors related to violence (which could include not going to school because of safety concerns), attempted suicide, tobacco use, alcohol use, other drug use, sexual behaviors, and weight management.

Bisexual students (and those who have sex with both genders, regardless of how they identify themselves) had higher risks than heterosexual students in eight of the 10 categories: behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries (such as not wearing a seatbelt), violence, attempted suicide, tobacco use, alcohol use, other drug use, sexual behaviors, and weight management.

LGB students showed no significant differences from their heterosexual peers in dietary behaviors (e.g., eating vegetables three or more times per day) or amount of physical activity.

Dr. Laura Kann, chief of the Surveillance and Evaluation Research Branch within the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, said that she attributes the “disproportionate” risks of LGB youth to the social difficulties they face, such as stigma, discrimination, and rejection by their families. This creates an environment that contributes to their higher health risk behaviors.

“If these kids had physically, emotionally acceptable environments—home, school, community, it’s unlikely that they would be practicing health risk behaviors at these rates,” she said.

She noted that their increased risk of being involved in violent behaviors is “not because of who they are, but because of what they’re pushed into.” She explained, “It’s a response” to the social disapproval, rejection, and bullying they may face.

The CDC findings confirm previous studies conducted by other researchers, including the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s 2009 National School Climate Survey, which found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the previous year and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation.

And a study in the May 2011 issue of the Journal of School Health, by Dr. Stephen T. Russell, distinguished professor at the University of Arizona, and Dr. Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, found that anti-LGBT bullying at school “is strongly linked” to negative mental health for its victims. Among those risks are an increased frequency of suicide attempts and increased risk for engaging in behaviors that can lead to infection with STDs and HIV. The increased risks exist not only while the victim is in adolescence, but also in young adulthood.

Based on its report, the CDC recommends:

  • Improving public health and school health policies and practices to create “safe and supportive environments for sexual minority students.” These policies might include ones to address stigma, discrimination, family disapproval, social rejection, and violence.
  • Providing professional development programs for school staff and others who work with sexual minority youth.
  • Adding questions about sexual identity and the sex of sexual contacts to youth risk behavior surveys in other states and districts. The CDC itself encourages states and districts to include such questions in their surveys, but does not require them to do so. In 2009, 10 states and 7 large urban school districts added questions to their YRBS questionnaire about sexual identity, sex of sexual contacts, or both.

In addition to funding the surveys, the CDC provides funding and technical assistance to 49 states, the District of Columbia, 16 large urban school districts, 6 territories, and 1 tribal government to help schools and school districts develop programs to reduce sexual risk behaviors among all youth.

Twenty-four state education agencies and 15 local education agencies used these funds in 2010 on specific activities to address LGBT youth, according to the CDC, including training staff on LGBT-inclusive health curricula, establishing gay-straight alliances and conferences, and developing guides to community resources for LGBT youth.

“If youth are going to thrive in their communities and in their schools,” Kann said, “they need to feel safe socially, emotionally, and physically. The schools and communities need to take concrete steps to establish these safe and supportive environments.”

She added, “I think this is a multifaceted problem that can be addressed at multiple levels.”

Congress is now considering eight bills that would help protect LGBT youth and reduce bullying and harassment of students because they are or are perceived to be LGBT. They include the Student Nondiscrimination Act, Safe Schools Improvement Act, and Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act in both chambers, and the Successful, Safe and Healthy Students Act and Reconnecting Youth to Prevent Homelessness Act in the Senate. But the success of the bills with a Republican-controlled House remains unlikely.

The CDC released its report in conjunction with the federal government’s first-ever summit devoted to LGBT youth, “Creating and Maintaining Safe and Supportive Environments for LGBT Youth” in Washington, D.C.

The event was hosted by the Department of Education, in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Judicial neutrality on trial, with a Supreme backdrop

Openly gay Judge Vaughn Walker won’t be in the courtroom next Monday (June 13)—at least not physically. But he’ll certainly be there in name–and so may be U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

Vaughn Walker

Openly gay Judge Vaughn Walker won’t be in the courtroom next Monday (June 13)—at least not physically. But he’ll certainly be there in name—and so may be U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

Alito, in response to inquiries from reporters, acknowledged last week that he should have recused himself from a 2009 case he helped decide. The reason? His two children each held about $2,000 in stock in the Disney company, the parent corporation to the ABC network that was a party to the case Alito participated in. Alito, who had recused himself that same year from another case involving Disney, said that, in this case, his staff, which reportedly checks such matters for him, had simply not realized that ABC was affiliated with Disney.

There has been no hue and cry over the revelation and, though this has all come out very recently, there’s been no indication the party against whom Alito voted, in a five-justice majority, plans to file a motion to vacate the ruling. That’s probably because Alito voted against ABC. But Alito’s reaction is an indication of how high he thinks the bar should be set for matters of potential judicial conflict. And that indication comes at an interesting time—just days before a federal judge in San Francisco must consider whether a former colleague, Vaughn Walker, had a conflict of interest when he ruled California’s ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.

The timing is almost certainly coincidental; Alito was prompted to acknowledge his conflict after probing reporters discovered it.

Alito’s agreement with those reporters—that what appears to be a relatively small and indirect financial interest in the parent company to one of four major networks involved in the case constitutes a conflict of interest—puts the bar for recusal at a difficult height to clear.

Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist did not recuse himself from hearing cases involving Microsoft, although his son was an attorney for Microsoft on a matter not before the court. John Roberts did not recuse himself from participating in a case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, even though a beneficiary of his decision—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—lobbied for his confirmation as Chief Justice.

9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt rejected a motion that he recuse himself from hearing an appeal from Yes on 8 last December. Reinhardt is married to the executive director of the Southern California ACLU.  The motion filed by Yes on 8 attorney Charles Cooper asserted that, because the ACLU has been involved in challenging Proposition 8, Reinhardt should disqualify himself from hearing the appeal. Reinhardt and his 9th Circuit panel colleagues have yet to rule on Yes on 8’s appeal.

Now, it is up to U.S. District Court Chief Judge James Ware to decide where the recusal bar should have been set when Vaughn Walker heard the case challenging Proposition 8. At the time of the trial, Walker had given no public statement indicating that he was gay and in a relationship for 10 years with another man. And it is common for judges to look to the Supreme Court and other courts for guidance, in making their own rulings.

So, it won’t be a surprise next Monday if attorneys for the proponents of Proposition 8 trot out Justice Alito’s recent recusal statement in support of their argument that Walker should have recused himself from deciding the landmark case involving Proposition 8.

Walker, in August 2010, ruled that the constitutional amendment passed by voters to ban legal recognition of marriages between same-sex partners in California violates the federal constitutional guarantees to equal protection and due process. Eight months after that decision, in response to inquiries from reporters, Walker acknowledged being gay and in a 10-year relationship with a man. Also in response to a question from a reporter, Walker said that he did not believe his sexual orientation required him to recuse himself from the case.

Proposition 8 attorney Cooper and his team agree with that—that Walker needn’t have recused himself because he is gay. But they argue that Walker’s relationship with a man was grounds for recusal.

Why?

“Given that Chief Judge Walker was in a committed, long-term, same-sex relationship throughout this case (and for many years before the case commenced),” argued Cooper in his brief, “it is clear that his ‘impartiality might reasonably [have been] questioned’ from the outset.”

But Ted Olson, David Boies, and the team of lawyers who have challenged Proposition 8 through Perry v. Brown (formerly Perry v. Schwarzenegger) say Cooper’s argument is just another way of saying Walker should have recused himself because he is gay.

“If Judge Walker were not gay,” said the Olson-Boies brief, Yes on 8 “Proponents would have no objection to his presiding over this case. Similarly, if Judge Walker were gay and not in a long-term relationship, Proponents could nevertheless speculate that he might benefit from the right to marry in the future. Proponents cannot escape the fact that their motion is, at its core, about Judge Walker’s sexual orientation.”

Here’s what the U.S. Code says regarding the “Judiciary and Judicial Procedure”: a judge should recuse himself or herself “in any proceeding in which his [or her] impartiality might reasonably be questioned” or in any case where the judge “knows that he [or she]… has a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy … or any other interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding….”

For Justice Alito, his children’s $4,000 worth of stock in the parent company of a corporation with a case before him was, in his mind, a “financial interest” meriting recusal. Following the disclosure, he sold his children’s stock in Disney, according to various news reports. And that, according to many legal observers discussing the revelation, puts him in good position to rule on any future case concerning Disney or ABC.

“As a result of the stock sale,” said Legal Ethics reporter Debra Cassena Weiss of the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal, “Alito will be able to participate if the court accepts a new case involving a fine against ABC television stations that aired an NYPD Blue program showing a shot of a woman’s bare buttocks.” The case Alito participated in, FCC v. Fox Television, affected fines against television networks, including ABC, if they allow profanity—even fleeting outbursts—on the air.

Walker’s situation differs from Alito’s in several ways. The biggest difference is that the losing party in Walker’s case, the Yes on 8 proponents, have filed a challenge to Walker’s decision, charging that Walker had a conflict of interest and should have recused himself. They want Chief Judge Ware to vacate Walker’s decision.

The Olson-Boies team argue against the Yes on 8 motion to vacate, noting that Walker and his partner demonstrated no apparent interest in taking advantage of any benefits of marriage when they opted not to marry in California between June and November of 2008. Yes on 8 attorneys argue, in their brief requesting Walker’s decision be vacated, that Walker never told the parties to Perry that he was in a 10-year same-sex relationship and “he has yet to disclose whether he has any interest in marrying his partner” should same-sex marriage become a possibility again in California.

But the Olson-Boies brief argues that if—as Yes on 8 attorneys argued at trial—that allowing same-sex couples to marry would harm heterosexual marriages, then “it would follow from their argument that judges married to a person of the opposite sex would also possess an ‘interest’ warranting recusal.”

“Such a standard,” argued the Olson-Boies team, “is plainly unworkable and unconstitutional.”

It is up to Chief Judge Ware to decide who’s right, after he hears oral arguments on the matter Monday, June 13, in a federal district court in San Francisco. Ware will also hear arguments Monday on a motion by Yes on 8 attorneys to permanently bar the public release of videotapes of the January 2010 trial.

It was on this latter issue—the videotapes—that Ware initially ordered Walker to appear in court Monday. The U.S. Supreme Court had barred Walker from broadcasting the trial proceedings outside the San Francisco courthouse, but he was allowed to broadcast it within the courthouse and to videotape the proceedings for his own use in constructing his decision.

Walker kept the videotapes as part of his own “chamber papers” and, through his attorneys, has said he considers them his property. But he turned the videotapes over to Judge Ware, and Ware has excused Walker from appearing in court Monday.

Jennings leaving, but says White House commitment stays

Kevin Jennings, the openly gay head of the federal office that manages its largest safe-schools and anti-bullying programs, will be leaving the U.S. Department of Education next month. But he said President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan remain committed to addressing the bullying of LGBT students.

Kevin Jennings

Kevin Jennings, the openly gay head of the federal office that manages its largest safe-schools and anti-bullying programs, will be leaving the U.S. Department of Education next month. But Jennings said his departure is not about budget cuts to the programs and that both President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan remain committed to addressing the bullying of students who are, or are perceived to be, LGBT.

Jennings, who founded the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in 1990 and led it until 2008, was seen as one of President Obama’s more important appointments for the LGBT community.

His selection as Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (OSDFS) in July 2009 was both hailed by the LGBT community and criticized by right-wing opponents who claimed he would promote a “homosexual agenda” in the nation’s classrooms.

Jennings announced his resignation May 19, saying that, at the end of July, he will become president and CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Be the Change, a nonprofit organization that creates national, issue-based campaigns and coalitions. Its first campaign was instrumental in helping to draft, and have Congress pass, the 2009 Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which expanded opportunities for national and community service.

But it is their new campaign, to promote economic opportunity for all Americans, which Jennings says addresses an issue “very, very close to my heart.”

“When this opportunity came along, I felt really strongly that this was the right thing for me to do at this point in my life,” he said. “I think that the issue of poverty in America is an outrage. . . . We are supposedly the land of opportunity and we need to take steps to make sure that’s actually true.”

Jennings said that, having grown up gay and poor, he has long wanted to do something for poor children as well as gay ones. He feels he has made “some real contributions” to the latter over the last 20 years, “and this is my chance to make a contribution on another issue that I care very deeply about.”

He has already had some impact in that arena. After Jennings’ mother died in 2002, he created the Alice Jennings Fund in her honor at the Appalachian Community Fund, to help low-income and battered girls and women have opportunities she did not have growing up in Appalachia.

Before Jennings leaves the Department of Education, however, he will be convening the first-ever federal summit on LGBT youth on June 6 and 7, at which both Education Secretary Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will speak.

Two hundred leaders, including 50 LGBT or allied youth, will be attending the summit, he said, to look at the needs of LGBT youth in three tracks: education, health and human services, and justice.

“It’s an unprecedented event,” he said. “The federal government . . . has never made the needs of LGBT youth a priority in this way before.”

“This is an administration that is committed to including LGBT youth as part of its work,” he said. “It’s a historic new direction.”

Jennings said he believes there has been significant progress towards addressing school bullying—of both LGBT students and others—under the Obama administration.

Jennings’ two years at the Department of Education coincided with an increased public awareness of the serious effects of school bullying. The week in April 2009 when the Obama administration offered him the position as head of OSDFS, news broke about the bullying-related suicide of 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover of Springfield, Massachusetts, who had been the subject of anti-gay taunts. That news, he said, inspired him to take the job.

And in October 2010, just days after a media blitz about the suicides of five teenagers, at least four of whom had been bullied for being gay or being perceived as gay, the department announced the awarding of $38.8 million in grants to 11 states from a new Safe and Supportive School program, to help measure and intervene in schools with the greatest safety concerns, including bullying.

Now, Jennings said, “We’ve put the full weight of the president behind this issue.”

The president convened a national Conference on Bullying Prevention in March 2011 and called on parents, teachers, students, and communities to tackle the problem together.

The president also recorded a video for the “It Gets Better” project, an initiative begun by syndicated columnist Dan Savage last September. The project’s Web site provides youth with examples of LGBT people and their allies who reassure them that life does get better after the difficult years in which most bullying takes place and encourages youth who are bullied to seek help from an adult.

In addition, the Department of Education issued guidance to all school officials in October 2010, reminding them that federal law requires schools to take action against bullying—including gender-based and sexual harassment of LGBT students.

It also issued a memo to all chief state school officers in December 2010, providing examples of effective state anti-bullying laws as a reference for developing or revising their own.

This fall, the Department of Education will convene its second Bullying Prevention Summit, a strategic planning gathering it first held last year for governmental and non-governmental leaders.

Results from two projects initiated at the first summit are expected to be reported on at the summit this fall. One is a survey of school districts that have an anti-bullying policy; the other a study, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on students who have died by suicide that was motivated by bullying.

“If my goal was to put a national spotlight on bullying and to galvanize a movement around that,” said Jennings, “I feel very much like we’ve succeeded.”

“There’s clearly work that remains to be done,” he said, but added, “I’m very confident about the President and [Secretary Duncan’s] commitment to keeping that work going.”

Fighting without funds: Federal money pulls out of the war on bullying

When Congress and the White House worked out their differences in early April concerning the Fiscal Year 2011 budget, it was clear that some programs important to the LGBT community would take a hit. But the consequences of their final agreement are now being felt.

Kevin Jennings

When Congress and the White House worked out their differences in early April concerning the Fiscal Year 2011 budget, it was clear that some programs important to the LGBT community would take a hit. But the consequences of their final agreement are now being felt.

The two primary federal grant programs that address bullying are being drained of more than $100 million.

Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (OSDFS), said the FY 11 budget for that office has been dropped by more than 25 percent from FY 10—from $393 million to $288 million. And the FY 10 numbers were themselves down from $690 million in 2009, the last year of the George W. Bush administration.

The office’s Safe and Supportive Schools program awarded its first $38.8 million in grants only last October to help 11 states measure and intervene in schools with the greatest safety needs. While existing grants will continue for the remainder of their four-year terms, Jennings said the office “will not be able to issue any new grants this year.”

The grants enable the selected states to conduct in-depth surveys of students, family, and staff about school safety issues, such as bullying and harassment, and direct grant monies to the schools with the biggest problems, as indicated by the students.

Jennings said the administration had hoped to include another eight to ten states this year and eventually offer grants to any state that wanted to implement such a program. Last year, 33 states applied. Jennings said it is “really disappointing to see the gap between what the states want to do . . . and the fact that we aren’t able to provide them the resources to do it.”

Budget cuts will also prevent another program from offering new grants this year—Safe Schools, Healthy Students, a collaboration among the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Justice. The program has, since 1999, offered more than $2.1 billion in grants to local educational, mental health, law enforcement, and juvenile justice partnerships. The funds are used for safe school activities, prevention programs against violence and substance abuse, and student and early childhood mental-health and emotional support services. Many of the recipients, said Jennings, fund anti-bullying programs with the funds.

Almost $33 million was awarded under the program in 2009, the last year new awards were made, and currently, there are 89 grantees with awards from 2008 and 2009. While those grantees, will still receive the remainder of their four-year grants, no new grants will be made this year.

The Department of Education still plans to convene its second Bullying Prevention Summit this fall, a strategic planning gathering it first held last year for governmental and non-governmental leaders.

The overall FY 11 budget approved by Congress in April called for the government to spend $39 billion less than the $3.5 trillion it did in FY 10. It was an agreement that was hard fought and wrought with partisan tensions, with Democrats pushing to preserve programs and Republicans pushing to rein in a troubling deficit.

“We’re very disappointed in the outcome of the budget,” said Jennings. “Resources are scarce for everyone, but we believe that school safety is paramount and needs to remain a priority.”

Jennings himself will be leaving the department in July to become president and CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Be the Change, a nonprofit organization that creates national, issue-based campaigns and coalitions, including a new campaign to promote economic opportunity for all Americans. Jennings said that “budget cuts played no role” in his decision to leave, and that he was swayed instead by the chance to do something to alleviate poverty, an issue “very, very close to my heart” after growing up poor.

One bill pending in the Senate would help provide future funding for safe schools programs.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), introduced the Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students Act on May 9. The bill would give states a total of $1 billion in grants to develop programs that promote student physical and mental health, prevent bullying, violence, and drug use, and promote “safe and supportive schools.”

In order to be considered for the four-year grants, local education agencies would, among other things, have to establish policies to prohibit bullying and harassment, including that based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Jennings said that Harkin’s bill “was designed to bolster the safe school efforts, of which specifically Safe and Supportive Schools is the flagship.” The bill consolidates several separate grant programs, as did the Safe and Supportive Schools grants. Jennings said this approach—fewer, more comprehensive programs—supports the Department of Education’s own plans for education reform and streamlining the grant application process.

The bill has one co-sponsor, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) There is currently no House version—but even if there were, the bill’s success in the Republican-controlled House seems unlikely.

Full House passes Defense bill with three anti-gay amendments

The U.S. House on Thursday, May 26, passed the House Armed Services Committee authorization bill that includes three amendments aimed at delaying implementation of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and shoring up the impact of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The U.S. House on Thursday, May 26, passed the House Armed Services Committee authorization bill that includes three amendments aimed at delaying implementation of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and shoring up the impact of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, May 25, rejected two budget proposals for Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations—one that LGBT activists liked and one they didn’t like.

The House vote Thursday was 322 to 96 on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes spending by the Defense Department for Fiscal Year 2012. The three amendments included one that seeks to require additional certifications before repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) can take place and two which reiterate that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) bars the use of military facilities or personnel for same-sex marriage ceremonies.

The Senate is unlikely to include similar language in its version of the NDAA, so the real showdown on the measures won’t occur until a Senate-House conference committee meets later this year to hammer out one version of the measure.

By that time, one of the amendments may have become moot. The Defense Department has said it expects the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should be able to certify the military’s readiness to enact repeal of DADT by mid-summer. Assuming the president does so at the same time, the repeal would be enacted 60 days after that—or sometime in October. The Senate-House conference committee will likely not be ready to meet until sometime after that.

The two DOMA-related amendments have already had their impact—prompting a Navy official to withdraw recommendations that military facilities and personnel be allowed to participate in same-sex ceremonies in states where same-sex marriages are legal. Even if the amendments survive conference committee, DOMA is under serious challenge in the federal courts.

The White House issued a statement Tuesday, saying that, while it generally supports the FY 2012 NDAA passed by the House Armed Services Committee, it objected to the three anti-gay amendments inserted during committee debate.

“The Administration strongly objects to any legislative attempts to directly or indirectly undermine, prevent, or delay the implementation of the repeal, as such efforts create uncertainty for servicemembers and their families,” said the White House statement. The White House “strongly objects” to a number of other provisions in the NDAA budget that the House kept in its final version of the bill even though President Obama has threatened to veto the measure should with those provisions.

The White House did not threaten to veto the bill over the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell amendments.

Aubrey Sarvis, head of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), said he was “heartened to see the White House standing firm against attempts to use the defense spending bill as a vehicle for delaying or derailing repeal and expanding DOMA.”

The bigger question looming over budget matters this week is what sort of budget will ever gain passage in Congress for FY 2012.

The budget LGBT and HIV activists generally supported was President Obama’s initial budget proposal for FY 12, a budget which included modest increases in programs against HIV and bullying. That proposal went down 97 to 0 in the Senate Wednesday, mostly because Democrats have shifted their support over to a revised proposal from Obama that promises a more aggressive effort at reducing the current deficit. The nuts and bolts of that proposal has yet to be released.

The budget LGBT activists didn’t like was one authored chiefly by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) that included dramatic reductions in domestic spending. That proposal passed the House last month and has been hotly debated ever since. Among the proposal’s more controversial cuts were in Medicare, which provides health insurance coverage for Americans 65 and older and for people with disabilities, including AIDS. It would also have left unfunded, President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which provides care for many people with HIV. A motion to consider Ryan’s plan failed by a vote of 40 to 57.

Among the senators voted against proceeding to Ryan’s bill were Republicans Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Rand Paul of Kentucky. All other Republicans voted to consider the bill, all Democrats against.

New federal grants to address housing needs of people with HIV/AIDS

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on May 23 announced up to $9.1 million in grants to address the housing needs of people with low-incomes living with HIV/AIDS.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on May 23 announced up to $9.1 million in grants to address the housing needs of people with low-incomes living with HIV/AIDS.

The competitive grants, offered through the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS Program, are intended for states and local communities to create more integrated strategies and partnerships between housing programs and other health and human services.

David Vos, director of HUD’s Office of HIV/AIDS Housing, said in a statement on the HUD Web site that the partnerships will help show “how to take holistic approaches to serving some of the nation’s most vulnerable, persons living with chronic health challenges and risks of homelessness.”

At the end of the three-year grants, HUD will evaluate and publish the results of grantees’ efforts in an Integrated HIV/AIDS Housing Plan (IHHP). The IHHP will be an online resource to help communities “integrate the delivery of housing along with medical and other supportive services,” said Vos.

The grants and IHHP are intended to support both President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy and his Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

President Obama released a National HIV/AIDS Strategy in July 2010 with specific, measurable targets to be achieved by 2015. One of the Strategy’s goals is to help people living with HIV “who have challenges meeting their basic needs, such as housing.” The Strategy says that “non-medical supportive services, such as housing, food, and transportation, are “critical elements of an effective HIV care system.”

The Strategy calls for increasing from 434,000 to 455,800 the number of people receiving HIV-related services under the Ryan White Care Act who have permanent Housing. The Ryan White Program, the largest federally funded program for people with AIDS, provides services for those who do not have sufficient health care coverage or financial resources.

According to the Strategy, “Individuals living with HIV who lack stable housing are more likely to delay HIV care, have poorer access to regular care, are less likely to receive optimal antiretroviral therapy, and are less likely to adhere to therapy.”

One 12-year study of people living with HIV in New York City, cited in the Strategy, found that “housing assistance had a direct impact on improved medical care, regardless of demographics, drug use, health and mental health status, or receipt of other services.”

But HUD’s announcement comes only weeks after the U.S. House passed a budget for Fiscal Year 2012 that AIDS activists believe will diminish HIV programs and services.

The proposed budget, authored chiefly by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), calls for dramatic cuts in Medicaid, which provides health insurance coverage for people with low incomes. And it calls for dramatic cuts in Medicare, which provides health insurance coverage for Americans 65 and older and for people with disabilities, including AIDS.

In a letter to members of the House in April, a large coalition of groups serving people with HIV had urged a “no” vote on the plan, saying it “will do irreparable harm to people living with HIV disease as well as those at risk for HIV infection.”

In addition to addressing the housing needs of people living with AIDS, HUD has also taken several significant steps towards addressing housing discrimination in the LGBT community.

It has issued proposed new regulations intended to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in its core housing programs. It also clarified that, although the Fair Housing Act—a pivotal civil rights act that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status, does not specifically cover sexual orientation- or gender identity-based discrimination, it may still provide them with protection in other ways.

For example, discrimination against a gay man because of fear he will spread HIV/AIDS may constitute illegal discrimination on the basis of a perceived disability, HIV/AIDS.

HUD has also instructed staff to inform individuals about state and local LGBT protections that may apply to them. And HUD has told all its grant applicants they must comply with such laws, where they exist.

Applications for the new grants should be submitted at grants.gov by August 2, 2011. Winners are expected to be announced by September 20, 2011.

Gallup shows dramatic uptick in support for same-sex marriage

A survey by the respected Gallup poll organization reports a stunning jump in support for legal recognition of the marriages of same-sex couples.

Evan Wolfson

A survey by the respected Gallup poll organization reports a stunning jump in support for legal recognition of the marriages of same-sex couples and “the first time” in its own tracking history on the issue that a majority of Americans “believe same-sex marriage should be recognized by the law as valid.”

The poll was conducted May 5-8 of 1,018 adults nationwide and its findings were released Friday, May 20. Of those polled, 53 percent said they think marriages between same-sex couples “should” be recognized by the law, with the same rights as “traditional marriages;” 45 percent said they “should not;” 2 percent had no opinion. The margin of error is plus or minus four points.

The 53 percent who support legal recognition for the marriages of same-sex couples represented a nine-point jump over last year’s 44 percent –the biggest jump in Gallup’s 16 years of asking a same-sex marriage question.

“The trend toward marriage equality is undeniable– and irreversible,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, in a statement released May 20. “Marriage for committed, loving couples continues to be an important value of the American people.”

Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry organization, said the poll “reaffirms that Americans have been listening…or, as President Obama would put it, ‘evolving.’”

Gallup has tracked the evolution since 1996, when only 27 percent of Americans supported legal recognition for the marriages of same-sex couples. By 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state to enable same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses, 42 percent supported legal recognition for the marriages of same-sex couples. Gallup said that 2004 level “stayed at roughly that level through last year.” Gallup also made a change, in 2006, in how it worded the question. From 1996 until 2007, it asked, “Do you think marriages between homosexuals should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?” Beginning in 2007, it asked “Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?” But the change in wording did not seem to make a significant difference in results at that time.

Gallup noted that, in the past year, Congress passed a bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” something its polls indicated Americans had supported since 2005. But there have been many other changes that could explain the uptick, too. In August of 2010, a federal judge in San Francisco, in probably what is the most widely publicized gay-related cases in history, ruled California’s ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. Just one month earlier, a federal judge in Boston had—in two cases—struck down a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). And marriage equality laws took effect in Washington, D.C., and New Hampshire, bringing to five the number of states with marriage equality laws. Then, in February of this year, the Obama administration announced that it could no longer defend DOMA as passing constitutional muster at all levels in all courts.

Gallup noted there was an increase in support among Democratic and Independent voters polled, but not among Republicans or older Americans. It said “fewer than 4 in 10 Republicans and older Americans” support recognizing marriages of same-sex couples.

“Republicans in particular seem fixed in their opinions,” said Gallup, noting that “there was no change at all in their support level this year, while independents’ and Democrats’ support jumped by double-digit margins.”

A Pew Research Center poll involving 1,504 adults nationally, registered a new high in support for allowing gays to marry in March. While 46 percent told the Pew Research Center they opposed allowing gays to marry, 45 percent said they favored doing so—a two-point jump in the space of six months. (Nine percent said they were unsure. The margin of error was plus or minus three points.)

New study shows that before things “get better,” there are consequences

A popular anti-bullying campaign has been telling bullied teens “it gets better”–but the effects of past bullying often linger, according to new research.

Caitlin Ryan

A popular anti-bullying campaign has been telling bullied teens “it gets better”—but the effects of past bullying often linger, according to new research.

The study, released Monday (May16) in the May 2011 issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of School Health, reports that anti-LGBT bullying at school “is strongly linked” to negative mental health for its victims. Among those risks are an increased frequency of suicide attempts and increased risk for engaging in behaviors that can lead to infection with STDs and HIV. The increased risks exist not only while the victim is in adolescence, but also in young adulthood.

It should come as no surprise that there is a link between the bullying of LGBT students and negative mental health consequences. Several suicides of LGBT teens in the past year, motivated at least in part by relentless bullying because they are or were perceived to be LGBT, have made headlines and prompted an outpouring of support for LGBT youth from individuals, corporations, and politicians. Syndicated columnist Dan Savage created the “It Gets Better Project” last September to provide youth with videos of LGBT adults and allies who reassure them that life does get better and encourage them to seek help from an adult.

But, until now, there have been no formal studies of the long-term effects of such bullying on LGBT people in the United States.

The new research, by Dr. Stephen T. Russell, distinguished professor at the University of Arizona, and Dr. Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, found that youth victimized in school because of their LGBT identity reported much greater problems with health and social adjustment in young adulthood than those experiencing low or moderate levels of school victimization.

Ryan said the research provides important empirical evidence about the relationship between bullying and its impact and that this evidence will “help us do something about it.”

Ryan and Russell surveyed 245 LGBT young adults (white and non-white Latino/a) ages 21 to 25. They asked them about their experiences during adolescence with bullying and harassment based on their known or perceived LGBT identity.

The researchers asked each participant to indicate the number of times he or she had experienced each of 10 different actions—such as being hit by a fellow student—because the other person knew or assumed him/her to be LGBT.

The responses to each item were assigned scores as follows: 0=never, 1=once or twice, 2=a few times, 3=many times. The researchers categorized those having total scores between 0 and 2 as having “low” levels of victimization; those between 3 and 10 as having “moderate” levels, and those between 10 and 28 as having “high” levels.

Thirty-seven percent of students (91 participants) had “low” levels of being bullied; 31 percent (75 participants) had “moderate” levels, and 32 percent (79 participants) had “high” levels.

Participants who reported high frequencies of victimization during adolescence were, compared to those with low frequencies:

  • 2.6 times more likely to report clinical levels of depression as young adults,
  • 5.6 times more likely to report having attempted suicide at least once,
  • 5.6 times more likely to have had a suicide attempt that required medical attention,
  • more than twice as likely to report having had an STD diagnosis, and
  • more than twice as likely to report having put themselves at risk for HIV infection in the last six months.

Explaining the latter phenomenon, Ryan said, “When you have a reason to value your own life, you’re going to be much more likely to engage in safer sex.”

Females reported less LGBT victimization in general than males and transgender young adults (both male-to-female and female-to-male) and had lower levels of depression in young adulthood. But those females who did experience higher levels of victimization reported levels of depression comparable to males.

Ryan said that the results will help show school administrators and others that bullying is not just “part of being an adolescent.”

“Now we can show that these effects with high levels of victimization are very serious,” she explained. And if victimization is linked “with serious health problems, such as suicide attempts that required medical care, sexual health risks, and risks for HIV,” she said, schools have “an issue in terms of liability.”

Ryan and Russell conclude that reducing the victimization of LGBT youth “should be an educational and public health priority.” The relationship between bullying and HIV risk, they wrote, “is especially important for school health programs that are funded by HIV funding streams.”

And now that they have shown anti-LGBT bullying to have effects later in life, efforts to prevent such bullying can also “play an important role in helping mitigate the well-documented adult health disparities that exist for LGBT adults in the United States.”

Reducing health disparities between LGBT people and the general population is one of the stated goals of Healthy People 2020, a decennial document created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to set national goals for health.

There are currently several bills in Congress that would address anti-LGBT bullying, including the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Nondiscrimination Act. Ryan said that this legislation is “absolutely essential” to address the “patchwork of approaches” to anti-LGBT bullying across the states. But that legislation alone isn’t enough, said Ryan.

“Schools are embedded in neighborhoods and in communities,” she said, and advocates for LGBT youth “need to do community engagement . . . and to reach out to families and do public education.”

The authors note several limitations of their study. The first is that it relied on LGBT young adults’ memories of experiences during their teenage years. The researchers tried to minimize errors in recollection by asking about very specific actions, e.g., “During my middle or high school years, while at school, I had mean rumors or lies spread about me.”

Also, the study recruited LGBT young adults from a wide range of sites in California, but did not use a sample fully representative of the population. The research covered only LGBT Latino and non-Latino White young adults. These are the two largest ethnic groups in California—but the authors hope that future research will include “greater ethnic diversity to assess potential differences related to ethnicity.”

Still, Ryan said, their results are “an important first step.”

And while the results have implications for school administrators and policy makers, Ryan said they also have implications for families.

“Once parents understand the stakes for their children,” said Ryan, “they’re much more motivated to get involved, to advocate for their kids.”

Previous research Ryan has done has found that acceptance of LGBT youth by parents and caregivers can help protect them against depression, substance abuse, and suicide attempts in early adulthood. Conversely, LGBT young adults whose families rejected them were more than three times as likely to have suicidal thoughts and to report suicide attempts.

Ryan said she shared those results with the staff of U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), who on May 12 introduced the Reconnecting Youth to Prevent Homelessness Act to reduce youth homelessness and establish programs specifically for LGBT teens.

Those programs would include ones aimed at reducing rejecting behaviors and increasing supporting behaviors and understanding among families to improve the chances of LGBT youth remaining at home.

As DOMA lawsuits proliferate, Boehner has a spending problem

The Antideficiency Act is not the sort of federal law that an ordinary American would be familiar with. It applies to government officials who are in a position to spend government money. And it prohibits those officials from spending federal money unless Congress appropriates it to be spent.

John Boehner

The Antideficiency Act is not the sort of federal law that an ordinary American would be familiar with. It applies to government officials who are in a position to spend government money. And it prohibits those officials from spending federal money unless Congress appropriates it to be spent.

It appears that Kerry Kircher, General Counsel of the U.S. House, may have violated the Antideficiency Act when he and House Administration Committee Chair Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), signed a contract to pay attorney Paul Clement half-a-million dollars to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in federal courts.

The problem, according to a recent report in the Huffington Post, is that the General Counsel’s office has no budget for the deal, and Congress has not appropriated $500,000 for those legal fees.

The Post says House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared to acknowledge the problem in April when he suggested the Justice Department should turn over funds it would have spent defending DOMA.

But, as Attorney General Eric Holder said, the Justice Department did not have a specific budget to defend DOMA. It simply has staff attorneys who do work as assigned.

Democratic Rep. Michael Honda of California and others think the contract with Clement violates the Antideficiency Act.

Honda is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee for House Legislative Branch Appropriations, which oversees appropriations for the House. During a subcommittee hearing May 12, Honda suggested the contract with Clement and his newly adopted law firm, Bancroft, may be a case where “an overzealous House Speaker committed $500,000 of the American people’s tax dollars to push a partisan and political agenda without having a funding source in place.”

“If so,” said Honda, “do Speaker Boehner’s actions violate the Antideficiency Act?” Honda did not attempt to answer the question and has not yet taken any action to test the issue.

Instead, Honda posed a political question: “If the message from the last election is to cut spending, then why is Speaker Boehner forcing Americans to pay a high-priced private law firm $520 per hour to defend a Constitutionally-flawed and discriminatory law?”

During his testimony before the subcommittee on May 12, General Counsel Kerry Kircher did not ask for any increase in the General Counsel’s budget for Fiscal Year 2012. The request for FY 2012—$1.4 million—is the same as for FY 2011. In fact, he never mentioned the contract with Clement at all.

Money may become an issue for Boehner’s efforts to defend DOMA in another way—the sheer number of federal legal challenges underway. There are at least 11, in one phase of litigation or another. And it is exceedingly unlikely that $500,000—even a properly authorized $500,000—will stretch far and wide enough to mount defenses in every case.

“$500,000 is a paltry amount that surely will be quickly exhausted,” said Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. He noted that a tax form filed by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization funding the litigation to overturn Proposition 8, showed it paid Ted Olson’s law firm “almost 1.7 million dollars” in 2009, “for just one year for just one case.” Davidson said he believes there are 15 DOMA-related lawsuits underway.

Interestingly, Clement and his associates have not filed to intervene in every DOMA-related case.

So far, court records indicate they have filed to intervene only in three: in the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) case Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management, in federal district court in Connecticut; in the ACLU’s case Windsor v. U.S. in New York; and in the Golinski v. OPM case, seeking the right to health coverage for a same-sex spouse, a case pending before the 9th Circuit.

They have not yet filed to intervene in GLAD’s Gill v. OPM cases (one lawsuit, two cases) or in Massachusetts v. HHS, which is consolidated with the Gill cases. Those cases are still in the briefing phase before the First Circuit and Chief Judge Sandra Lynch ordered the government to indicate by June 1 whether “and, if so, when,” the Attorney General would submit a report to both houses of Congress indicating his intentions regarding the Gill and Massachusetts cases and what Congress intends to do.

House General Counsel Kircher has intervened in a tax-related DOMA challenge, Dragovitch v. Treasury, in Oakland, California. But neither Kircher nor Clement has intervened in at least four other lesser-known DOMA challenges.

But attorneys on several of the cases for which Clement and/or Kircher have not yet intervened said both men have indicated an intention to do so.

House Committee approves three DADT/DOMA amendments

The full U.S. House Armed Services Committee approved three amendments late Wednesday night that seek to delay implementation of repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and to reiterate Congress’s support for the Defense of Marriage Act.

Duncan Hunter

The full U.S. House Armed Services Committee approved three amendments late Wednesday night that seek to delay implementation of repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and to reiterate Congress’s support for the Defense of Marriage Act.

The votes were largely along partisan lines and are unlikely to be sustained in the Democratic-controlled Senate, even if they are approved by the Republican-dominated House.

But the question is whether they might survive a Senate-House conference committee, when compromises have to be hammered out between two increasingly contentious parties.

None of the proposed amendments sought to undo what Congress did last December when it passed legislation to repeal the military’s ban on openly gay people, but each provided yet another forum for debate over repeal.

The Committee debated for more than 40 minutes an amendment over whether to require that each of the Chiefs of the four combat branches of the military provide written certification to Congress before repeal can be implemented. The amendment passed 33 to 27.

It then debated for less than 20 minutes an amendment to reiterate that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) applies to the military. The amendment passed 39 to 22.

And it debated for 13 minutes an amendment to reiterate that decisions concerning use of military facilities and personnel for conducting same-sex wedding ceremonies are governed by DOMA. That amendment passed 38 to 23.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), called the amendments “an assault on our nation’s senior military leaders and rank-and-file service members, who are marching toward open military service successfully.”

“These adopted amendments to delay and derail repeal are a partisan political attempt to interject the same-sex marriage debate and other unrelated social issues into the [budget authorization legislation] where they have no place,” said Sarvis.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the amendments were intended “to slow down open service and perpetuate scare tactics about the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

Three different Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee proposed the amendments during the full House Armed Services Committee consideration of the annual bill authorizing how the Department of Defense can spend its funding. The overall bill is known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012 (or bill Number H.R. 1540). Fiscal Year 2012 begins October 1.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-San Diego) first introduced his measure, called the “Restore Military Readiness Act,” as a stand-alone bill, in January. It has 25 co-sponsors. It seeks to require that certification of military readiness to implement repeal of the ban on gays in the military be done by the Chiefs of the four branches of the military, in addition to the certifications already required from the president, the Secretary of Defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Hunter, in debate, claimed that “60 to 70 percent” of Navy SEALs oppose repeal of DADT. The SEALs have been the subject of enormous public attention and praise recently, after successfully capturing and killing terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden.

Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee which received Hunter’s original measure, reminded the full committee that the four service branch chiefs testified at Congressional hearings that they believe their views are heard and respected by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) lamented that the House continues to debate DADT repeal.

“Having openly gay people serve in our military is not apocalypse,” said Johnson, “it’s a sign of progress.” He also reminded committee members that when President Truman moved to integrate the military, there were some who opposed it.

“I think it’s a similar situation here with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” said Johnson.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) read a letter from a gay veteran from World War II, supporting repeal of DADT.

Currently, President Obama, Gates, and Mullen are expected to certify the military as ready to implement repeal of DADT this summer. The repeal would then take effect 60 days later. Given how difficult it has been for the Senate and House to agree on budget matters in recent months, it seems possible that the 60-day waiting period will expire and DADT will be repealed long before a Senate-House conference committee will have a chance to tackle the issues.

The second amendment came from Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri). It seeks to emphasize that DOMA still applies to DOD regulations and policies. Hartzler said the amendment would address situations such as the recent conflict over whether Navy chaplains could preside over same-sex marriages and allow such ceremonies to take place on military bases.

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and others claimed the amendment was necessary because the Obama administration was “not enforcing” DOMA, so it is necessary to reiterate Congress’s support for the law. No one spoke to correct that claim. The Obama administration made clear it would continue enforcing DOMA until such time as the courts may find it unconstitutional. But it did say it would no longer defend DOMA as passing all constitutional levels of scrutiny in all federal courts.

The third amendment, from Rep. Todd Akin (R-Missouri), would prevent the use of military facilities or personnel for marriage ceremonies between same-sex couples. Akin’s amendment, like that of Hartzler, was in reaction to an April 13 memo from the Navy’s Chief of Chaplains recommending military facilities be available for use at same-sex marriage ceremonies in states where marriage licenses are available to same-sex couples. The Chief also recommended military chaplains be allowed to participate in such ceremonies, if their religious beliefs allow them to.

But on Tuesday, May 10, the Navy Chaplain Chief, Mark Tidd, “suspended” his earlier recommendations, saying they needed to undergo “additional legal and policy review and interdepartmental coordination.”

ABC News reported that a group of 63 Republicans had sent a letter to the Secretary of Navy, expressing objections to Tidd’s initial recommendations.

“Make no mistake,” said SLDN’s Sarvis, “these votes should be a wake-up call to supporters of open service that our work is not done. Our commitment to timely certification and repeal must be redoubled as we move to the House floor to defend the progress we have made to ensure that LGB patriots can defend and serve the country they love with honesty and integrity.”

Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) was reportedly ready to introduce an amendment to delay implementation of DADT repeal in order to develop and issue new regulations concerning how to handle service members who have religious or moral objections to openly gay people in the military. He did not do so.