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Ending Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientatíon and Gender Identity

Author(s): Kate Kendell

Source: Human Rights, Vol. 35, No. 4 (Fall 2008), pp. 18-19
Published by: American Bar Association
Stable URL:
Accessed: 16-10-2018 11:31 UTC

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is incredibly heartening to see that you understand that to
improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgen-
der (LGBT) people, you must use your powerful voice
and the authority and resources of the highest office in the land
to stand up for the equal dignity and worth of all Americans,
including those who are LGBT. Laws that discriminate against
LGBT people, or against same-sex couples and our children,
should be repealed. Existing federal anti-discrimination
measures should be vigorously enforced and interpreted to
protect individual rights, including those of LGBT people.
And LGBT people should be afforded full legal equality. On
these issues, we are truly hopeful that you will lead the country
forward throughout your presidency. I want to highlight several
issues that require work, several of which you have already in-
dicated will be priorities of your Demonstrators
turn out for marriage equality as part of a
Publicly funded discrimination "National Day of Action" in LGBT
against response to the recent passage of
should be ended immediately. It Proposition 8, which repeals the right of same-sex
is impermissible for couples
federal to
marry in California.
funds to be used to discriminate on the basis of sexual orien-
from job
tation and gender identity, whether discrimination
these based
monies are used toon bot
pay federal workers' salaries, to pay orientation, and to say
federal contractors, or that yo
to provide block grants to private that does
social service not include both
Among other actions, the Office We of
wholeheartedly agree
Special Counsel, that it is t
with enforcing prohibitions on Marriage Actin
discrimination (DOMA), enacted i
the federal
workforce, should return to its previous in 1996, to be policy
longstanding repealed. Th
sure is
of enforcing prohibitions on sexual anathema to
orientation the principles of
tion in federal employment. Itprocess.
is time It
to treats
these pro-different
orientation and
tections to those who face discrimination bars
based angender
on entire class of
array of federal protections. Becaus
identity and expression as well.
As you know, we need yourcouples
leadership on a long
are treated overdue
unequally with reg
federal law that bans discrimination on the
and taxes, basis are
families of sexual
denied the job
orientation and gender identity and
by Medical
private Leave Act
employers. when a sp
workplace opportunity is an is essential aspect
critically of equal citi-
ill, individuals and their
zenship. Without the ability toto support
survivor benefits
one's when
self and a spouse
family, individuals are deprived are unable
of self-esteem to provide the
and self-suf-
ficiency, a home and a place in the community,
partners with health and access
insurance cover
to health insurance and healthdenied
care. Unfortunately, manya spouse o
the right to sponsor
LGBT workers across this country faceThese
purposes. serious
not "special right
discrimination every day. Today, a thirty
few of states
the 1,138 federal rights
it remains
tions, and
legal for an employer to fire someone benefits
for currently
being gay, available
sex couples
or bisexual. In thirty-eight states, but denied
a transgender to every sam
or gender-
We do
nonconforming person can be fired want because
simply you to understand
of his or that
dom For
her gender identity or expression. to marry belongs
transgender to all in
people America
particular, the incidence of blatant or sexual orientation.
discrimination is incred- Civil u
ibly high, resulting in epidemic levels laws - whether on and
of unemployment the state
homelessness. I ask you to leadsecuring federaleffort
the legislative rights on
- are a step in
issue and to announce that you would
they welcome
do not the opportu-
represent equality under
to the most
nity to sign into law federal legislation basic
that principles
protects peopleof fairn

humanrights 18 рац 2008

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government to create a separate family law status for same- a classmate at a California public school simply because
sex couples solely in order to reserve the most respected and Lawrence was identified as gay and often wore makeup and
esteemed family status for heterosexual couples. Relegating feminine clothing. Peer harassment and bullying based on
an entire class of families to a separate legal status serves perceived sexual orientation and gender identity and ex-
only to stigmatize these families as less deserving than oth- pression continue to be serious problems. One 2007 survey
ers and to invite private and public discrimination against shows that nearly nine out often LGBT students had expe-
same-sex couples and their children. The children of same- rienced harassment in the past year at school. In addition to
sex couples have the same needs as other children, not only enacting strong laws and policies, we must ensure that teach-
to have their families recognized and protected under the ers and administrators are well trained and able to respond to
law, but also to be treated with equal dignity and respect. harassment effectively. We must ensure that schools teach
Providing such basic equality is fully consistent with re- all students tolerance and respect. Recognizing that LGBT
ligious freedom and with the diversity of religious views youth are also at a dramatically increased risk of homeless-
about marriage. No religion can be required to perform ness, we also need federal appropriations for housing, shel-
marriages for same-sex couples or to recognize marriages ters, and supportive services targeted to these youth. Federal
between such couples for religious purposes. On this critical programs and services for older Americans also must stop
issue of equality and freedom with regard to civil marriage, excluding LGBT elders, and federal research and policies
we need our new president to step up and lead as courageous must recognize the existence of this population.
past presidents have done on other vital issues of civil rights. We also ask you to provide leadership to lessen and help
We agree with you that LGBT people in our military end the HIV/AIDS pandemic that takes its highest tolls in
should be able to serve our country honestly and openly. the LGBT community, in communities of color, and among
You should work with Congress to repeal the discrimina- poor people. Our nation should be educating people on how
tory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which cruelly prevents to prevent HIV infection using proven methods, not spon-
patriotic service members, who have voluntarily stepped for- soring ineffective politically motivated programs such as
ward to risk their lives for their nation, from serving openly abstinence-only sex education. With HIV, as with so many
and with dignity. Under this unfair and outdated policy, other issues, our federal government should restore the roles
more than 12,500 highly trained service members have been of research and science to their rightful places; politics should
discharged simply because of their sexual orientation. Mili- not trump the health needs of our people. Prevention, educa-
tary policies also call for the discharge of otherwise qualified tion, treatment, finding a vaccine and a cure - all are needs
transgender service members. It is unconscionable that these that should be addressed with common-sense solutions and
discriminatory policies remain in place while our nation is adequate, reliable funding. Discrimination against people
at war and all military branches report recruiting problems. with HIV, including the irrational and unconscionable ban
LGBT people who are willing to serve should be honored, on visitors and immigrants with HIV, should be abolished.
not required to remain closeted and live in fear of being dis- Access to health care and health insurance coverage was
covered and drummed out of the service. a recurring theme throughout the presidential campaign, but
Also long overdue is a federal hate crimes act that covers the health-care laws and policies of the U.S. government
both sexual orientation and gender identity. It has been more leave some of the most vulnerable behind. Many transgender
than ten years since Matthew Shepard was left to die on a people who rely on the government for health care - those
Wyoming fence after a brutal beating motivated by anti-gay on Medicaid, those in prisons, or those held in U.S. detention
animus. When Matt was killed, there was a national out- facilities - are denied treatment related to their transgender
pouring of grief and federal officials held a vigil at the U.S. condition, even when their lives or health depends on it. We
Capitol to decry hate violence and pledge to take steps to end need leadership from the executive branch to support federal
it. His parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, have advocated policies and legislation that will bring an end to this blatant
continuously for this bill, returning to Capitol Hill again and discrimination and neglect.
again, but it has yet to be enacted. Unfortunately, the problem Mr. President, as you have indicated that you deeply un-
öf hate violence against LGBT people continues, with fed- derstand, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people
eral statistics continuously showing that sexual orientation of this country are working hard, raising our families, and
remains the third highest recorded bias crime in the country living our lives honestly in the face of the tremendous hurdles
and with anecdotal evidence that anti-transgender hate caused by the continued prevalence of state-sanctioned dis-
violence occurs frequently, and especially against gender- crimination. We look to you for visionary and sustained lead-
nonconforming people of color. A federal hate crimes bill ership to ensure that our nation's laws protect us and treat our
should be enacted that covers both sexual orientation and families fairly. The early signs from you and your administra-
gender identity. tion are encouraging. We stand ready to work with you.
As you know, LGBT youth are especially vulnerable to
violence and abuse. For example, in February 2008, fifteen- Kate Kendell is the executive director at the National Center
year-old Lawrence King was shot in the head and killed by for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, California.

Fall 2008 19 humanrights

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