Friday, January 29, 2010

Rewind: Week of Jan. 29

Also posted on DC Agenda

The only thing new in President Obama’s mention of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during his State of the Union address was the phrase “this year.”

Although it is always helpful when the president uses the word “gay,” especially when stressing the equality of all citizens, it is not as helpful to keep on promising the repeal of a discriminatory law without saying or committing much else. Having surrogates — like Valerie Jarrett — try to assure us without giving any details does not foster much confidence, either.

Considering the ambitious agenda Obama intends to keep, his depleted political capital, the resurgence of GOP confidence, strident opposition from the Pentagon, and the reality that members of Congress have already “run for the hills” in anticipation of the November elections, will “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” be repealed this year? Will skittish and self-serving politicians do the right thing and finally permit “gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are”?

And if the antiquated and disproven law were to survive another year, will Obama sign an executive order banning any further discharges of out lesbian and gay soldiers?

In related news, the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law released a report Tuesday that increased the estimated number of gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals serving in the military to 66,000. The study also calculates that about 13,000 of these brave Americans are on active duty while the remaining 53,000 gay and bisexual women and men serve in the National Guard and reserves.

Wednesday was quite eventful. In Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced an historic piece of legislation, H.R. 4350, the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which seeks to protect LGBT students. The bill establishes a comprehensive federal prohibition of discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill debuted with 60 co-sponsors.

While Polis was working for equality, his colleague, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), introduced a disapproval resolution to block the District’s marriage equality law, even though he admits that the motion is almost certain to fail. Chaffetz clearly had nothing better to do than indulge his homophobia and bigotry. In response, House Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) issued a statement saying she had received assurance from Democratic leaders that the House will ignore the conservative congressman’s useless resolution.

Meanwhile, in California, testimony in the federal Proposition 8 trial ended and the presiding judge, Vaughn Walker, could rule as soon as March. Whatever his decision, it will most likely be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals and all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Internationally, Moscow’s mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, vowed Monday to once again prevent this year’s gay pride parade, which he considers “satanic.”

“We haven’t permitted such a parade and we won’t permit it in the future,” he said. “It’s high time that we stop propagating nonsense discussions about human rights, and bring to bear on them the full force and justice of the law.”

The LGBT community plans on marching nonetheless, even though they had been harassed and dispersed during previous attempts.

On Wednesday, Mexico City’s lesbians and gays got the bad news that Mexican federal prosecutors will try to overturn the city’s same-sex marriage law. The federal Attorney General’s office issued a statement that says the law “violates the principle of legality, because it strays from the constitutional principle of protecting the family.”

In contrast, the United Kingdom’s LGBT community got props from the nation’s conservative leader, David Cameron. At a recent meeting on education, the Tory head said that schoolchildren should be taught about gay relationships and equality.

“We do need good sex and relationship education. That education should teach people about equality, that we treat people the same whether they are gay or straight. I think that is really important that we embed that in the ethos of our education.” Cameron added, “Should we teach children about relationships? Yes we should. Should we teach them about the importance of equality, whether you’re heterosexual or homosexual? Yes we should.”

Perhaps American conservatives should listen and learn from their British counterparts and finally uphold the American ideal of equality for all its citizens. After all, more and more of their ranks — young and old — are starting to see lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as equals worthy of respect and the most basic of rights.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Importing hate

Originally posted on DC Agenda

Immigrant congregations are indispensable to the integration of newcomers. However, they can also import prejudice and breed hatred.

While studying community-based organizations founded by and for immigrant groups, I learned how crucial these non-profits are to incorporating newcomers into the American mainstream. Congregations such as churches and mosques are especially helpful for individuals and families that have just arrived. As I wrote in a report for the Urban Institute:

Congregations are often the first and main points of contact for newcomers. They provide a ready-made community with shared religion, language, culture, and norms. Religious community leaders are often keenly aware of newcomers’ needs. They often provide direct services or educate individuals and families about how and where to find help. In this safe environment, immigrants learn from their compatriots about American life and ease into it.

Unfortunately, some of these congregations also import religious beliefs and cultural traditions that clash with the secular and pluralist character of America. This conflict was on display last week during the federal Proposition 8 trial in San Francisco. The plaintiffs presented videotapes of Hak-Shing Tam, a 55-year-old immigrant from Hong Kong and one of the main progenitors of the referendum that ended same-sex marriage in California.

The New York Times reported that Tam is one of the most respected and heeded leaders of the “burgeoning world of evangelical Chinese Christianity in the Bay Area.” The proponents of marriage equality chose Tam to prove their central argument that Proposition 8 came out of hate for a minority. Ironically, the prejudice and bigotry of one minority — fundamentalist Christian Chinese — targeted another minority: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

An example of this prejudice can be drawn from a 2008 Chinese-language essay that Tam distributed online, which includes this passage:

In a macro environment in which homosexuality is gradually accepted as being normal, child molesting by gays is gradually being viewed as normal in academia. Children who were subjected to sexual abuse only know to socialize with other men through sex. When they grow up, they would do the same to other children by molesting children of the same sex. Therefore, gay people grow in numbers even as most of them do not have children of their own.

In a Chinese-language letter that Tam disseminated among Chinese Christian churches in the Bay Area, he warned of a “gay agenda” and some inevitable legalization of prostitution and pedophilia if Prop 8 failed. All of Tam’s assertions are patently false and designed to incite discrimination and action against the LGBT community.

In a follow-up article, the Times reporter muses:

It was fascinating to realize that same-sex marriage, and the successful campaign to ban it was really the first political issue to galvanize this community. It has been rapidly — and quietly — growing for two decades but only recently tried its hand at political action.

The Bay Area’s Chinese Christians are overwhelmingly evangelical, especially in the South Bay, although there is smattering of main-line Protestants and Catholics as well in San Francisco. Evangelical Chinese Christians were one of the region’s most vocal and well-organized groups supporting Proposition 8, the ballot measure banning same-sex marriage, which voters approved in 2008.

It is safe to say that most of these Evangelical Chinese agree with Tam’s warped sense of reality because of their religious belief system, cultural traditions and general conservative bent.

This is not to say that all faithful immigrants are like Tam and his coreligionists. Neither am I advocating for newcomers to leave their religions, cultures and traditions at the border. After all, this is a nation of immigrants and they should always be welcome along with the energy, determination, talent, optimism and hope they bring into their adopted country.

However, people who choose to come to the United States also should be willing to live in a society that embraces many different kinds of people who do not necessarily share the same beliefs, customs and traditions. Newcomers need to respect and at the very least tolerate others just as they should be respected and at the very least tolerated. Immigrants have to learn and imbibe the American ideals of freedom and equality.

Ours is a liberal democracy, not a theocracy.

You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rewind: Week of Jan. 22

Originally posted on DC Agenda

The loss of Edward Kennedy’s U.S. senate seat to a Republican and the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down elements of campaign-finance law have caused much anxiety for the Obama administration, Democrats and progressives in general. But does the LGBT community need to worry?

On Tuesday, Massachusetts state Sen. Scott Brown defeated state Attorney General Martha Coakley to become the 41st GOP member of the U.S. Senate, ending the Democratic “filibuster-proof” majority and putting the brakes on the administration’s agenda, particularly health care reform. And yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations, unions and similar entities can spend as much as they want in advertisements supporting or opposing federal political candidates, giving an outrageous advantage to pols backed by firms with very deep pockets.

For the LGBT movement, these developments may not necessarily be bad. In the first place, the Democratic majority has shown meager enthusiasm for our civil rights and was not likely to act on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act anytime soon. And as for senator-elect Brown, he shares the fierce advocate’s anti-gay-marriage-but-pro-civil-unions stance. The former Cosmo centerfold is also indebted to independent voters who tend not be rabid conservatives when it comes to social issues. Most of all, President Obama, Brown and other elected officials will have bigger things in their mind than fighting for or against our rights: pressing issues such as health care reform, major unemployment, wars, and the elections in November.

Moreover, the Supreme Court’s ruling which permits corporations and the like to spend as much as they want on advertising for or against a candidate presents us with an excellent opportunity for our gay dollars to work. A pro-LGBT entity or one owned by an LGBT individual can back politicians committed to equal rights or oppose those who want to perpetuate our second-class status. Going forward, this approach should be folded into a strategy which includes supporting pro-LGBT candidates of all parties, reaching out to communities that do not support us, and aiming for victories at the local and state levels.

These incremental gains can take the form of small steps toward the right direction, such as the one taken by South Miami city commissioners when they voted Tuesday to allow city employees’ domestic partners, both straight and gay, to enjoy the same benefits and rights an employee’s spouse would get, including hospital visitation rights and health care coverage.

Getting pro-LGBT politicians into all levels of government is crucial to furthering the cause and can guarantee victories in legislative initiatives such as those happening this morning in Hawaii’s state Senate. A vote on a bill that would allow same-sex and different-sex couples to enter into civil unions has been scheduled. If the bill is approved, it would move back to the state House, where lawmakers passed a civil-unions bill during their last session. Having elected officials committed to equality will also hinder actions such as the one made by an Indiana state senate committee last Wednesday which endorsed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

In other news, the Obama Justice Department finally intervened in a gay rights suit last Friday by filing a motion in support of an openly gay student’s lawsuit against his school district in upstate New York. School officials did not appropriately respond to abuse the 14 year old suffered because of his sexual orientation. In its motion, the Justice Department argued that school district officials also violated the Equal Protection Clause.

Today, Stars and Stripes, a military community news source, reports that Department of Defense schools will now recognize same-sex relationships when transferring overseas teachers to new assignments. This means that lesbian and gay teachers in domestic partnerships with other teachers must be given the same consideration their married heterosexual colleagues receive when requesting to be transferred to new jobs in the same area.

Internationally, the United Nations called on Uganda to abandon its Kill-the-Gays bill. On Friday, Navi Pillay, the high commissioner for human rights, called the proposed legislation “draconian” and “blatantly discriminatory.” Pillay reminded Uganda of its human rights obligations, warning that the bill would “seriously damage the country’s reputation in the international arena.”

On Wednesday, a dozen Democratic U.S. senators also sent a letter to Uganda’s president urging Musseveni to block enactment of the pending bill. The letter says, “This troubling legislation would sanction prejudice toward people in Uganda based solely on sexual orientation, or even HIV status. This is in great contrast to trends toward greater tolerance in the global community. By creating harsh penalties for homosexuality, this bill not only codifies prejudice, but could also foster an increase in violence towards people simply based on sexual orientation … this proposed legislation will be a glaring setback in Uganda’s human rights standing. Unfortunately, even the mere threat of the new and severe penalties for homosexual behavior suggested in this bill, including life imprisonment and the death penalty, could easily add to an already intolerant atmosphere in Uganda based on sexual orientation.“

Meanwhile, Malawian officials express no regret for their continued oppression of LGBT individuals. In a statement released Monday, Malawi’s information minister, Leckford Mwanza Thoto, was unapologetic about laws that criminalize homosexuality. Referring to a gay couple that held a marriage ceremony, Thoto said they were “clearly breaking the laws of Malawi.” He also defiantly added, “We depend on our Western friends, yes, but we are a sovereign country.”

Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people likewise persist in Russia. On Tuesday, a Moscow court rejected a lesbian couple’s appeal against an earlier ruling upholding a registry office’s refusal to register their marriage. The lawyer for the two women anticipated the ruling but is not giving up.

There were bright spots, however. On Tuesday, the daughter of Cuba’s president said that the communist state has been performing state-sponsored gender reassignment operations since 2008, a year after the government lifted a longtime ban on the procedure. Mariela Castro is a sexologist and gay-rights advocate and runs the Center for Sex Education, which prepares trans people for the procedures.

And finally in the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party will release its election manifesto today which contains a “cast-iron pledge” to give financial benefits to same-sex and different-sex couples who stay together. It says: “We will recognize marriage and civil partnerships in the tax system in the next parliament. We are one of the very few countries in the western world that doesn’t do so and we will put that right. This will send an important signal that we value the commitment that people make when they get married.”

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon

Monday, January 18, 2010

Helping Haiti

Originally posted on DC Agenda

The breathtaking tragedy in Haiti put things in perspective.

As images of fallen buildings, dead bodies and wailing wounded streamed in, I found it difficult to write — even about the groundbreaking Proposition 8 trial in California. Seeing such devastation took my focus away from my own worries. Our community’s very real struggle seemed not as important.

Like many others, I teared up, thought about what I could do to help, and did what I can. I was elated to find out that the LGBT community has mobilized to help. The Rainbow World Fund, the world’s only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender driven international humanitarian aid charity, offered a giving alternative that promised to get the funds to those who need it through groups that do not exclude LGBT individuals or discriminate against anyone. The relief agency has been in Haiti since its founding in 2004 and has improved the lives of thousands in the impoverished nation by supporting projects that improve nutrition and develop safe drinking water access. The organization’s disaster relief partner, CARE, has been on the ground since last week, providing emergency food, safe water, plastic for shelters, blankets and basic medicines.

The owners of LGBT cruise companies Atlantis, Olivia and RSVP also have teamed with community activists in a coordinated effort to raise money which will be channeled through the Red Cross.

Haiti has been a regular destination for gay-themed cruises. Judy Dlugacz, the president of Olivia Companies, a lesbian-oriented vacation company, said that “so many of our passengers have been touched by the destruction and poverty in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. It is important that as LGBT Americans, we come together to show our community’s solidarity and support for those living through this unimaginable disaster.” Rich Campbell, the CEO of Atlantis Events, agreed, saying “now is the time for us to lend our gay dollars to a compelling human tragedy that knows no gender or sexual orientation.”

Claire Lucas, a community activist and political fundraiser, also is raising awareness within the LGBT community. She said “the symbolism of a unified, community-based financial response is important” and that it “represents a fitting effort to reach beyond our borders with a message of hope and goodwill from LGBT Americans.”

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equity, added that “too often the LGBT community in the United States is portrayed as inwardly focused and unattached to the larger suffering beyond our borders, but we know that to be untrue, and as we watch the devastation in Haiti today, we can also send a message about our community’s larger concern for human suffering.”

In spite of our status as second-class citizens, we do have it much better than others across the world who live on less than $2 a day and are set back all the more after calamities. I’d like to think that our own marginalization and disadvantage — though not as urgent as the dire needs of Port Au Prince survivors — allow us to empathize with the images we see flashed on front pages, cable news and streaming videos.

The humanitarian crisis in Haiti allows us to show the world that we do care and that we do what we can as part of the community. Let’s take this moment to help.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon

Photo from

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Double Jeopardy

The many layered discrimination suffered by LGBT of color was in full display yesterday at the Prop 8 trial. The New York Times reports on the deposition of Helen Zia, a noted journalist, author, scholar and activist:
...her testimony was striking. There was a noticeable undercurrent of race that coursed through these moments in the proceedings, as a Chinese-American witness, prompted by an Asian-American lawyer, described a tableau of fear and hostility that she she said had faced as a lesbian. The testimony was a not-so-subtle reminder of the letter that Hak-Shing William Tam, a Chinese-American opponent of same-sex marriage, had sent to the Asian-American community in the Bay Area during the Proposition 8 campaign.

The letter was the centerpiece of a riveting moment Wednesday, when Mr. Tam was shown in a video discussing how he found evidence of a “gay agenda” on Google that indicated that gays and lesbians intended to legalize prostitution and sex with children after winning the gay marriage fight. The plaintiffs say the Fremont resident has distributed those views through a letter to the Asian Americans.

Ms. Zia vividly discussed her own experience working as a community organizer, when Asian and black leaders confronted her with the question of her sexual orientation, saying “it would be really terrible to have somebody who was homosexual to be working with us,” she said.

She denied that she was lesbian, and then “stepped into the closet and slammed the door.”

Her experience, sadly, is not unique.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon

Friday, January 15, 2010

Rewind: LGBT News Week of Jan. 15

Originally posted on DC Agenda

The big LGBT story this week was the Proposition 8 trial in San Francisco challenging California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Elsewhere, from Bozeman, Mont., to Beijing, China, our community and allies also fought discrimination, persecution and marginalization, winning some and losing a few.

On Monday, just before the Prop 8 trial was about to commence, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked the videotaping and subsequent showing on YouTube of the proceedings. LGBT journalists, bloggers and advocates stepped up and made sure that information flowed through several outlets. Two days later, the high court ruled that the trial could not be broadcast, questioning the propriety and haste of the federal judge’s decision to record the proceedings. The Supreme Court apparently heeded the fear of harassment among those who rabidly promote the continued oppression of a minority.

In other places in the U.S., the community had some gains. The City Commission of Bozeman voted Monday to protect LGBT city employees by adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the categories covered by the city’s anti-discrimination policy.

The following day, the California State Assembly Committee on Public Safety passed the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Prisoner Safety Act, which is designed to prevent violence against LGBT people in the state prison system. According to a recent study, 69 percent of trans inmates report sexual victimization while incarcerated.

In Iowa, as the 2010 legislative session began, supporters and opponents of marriage equality rallied their forces. On Sunday, leaders from labor, faith and civil rights groups gathered in Des Moines, calling for all Iowans to speak up in support of same-sex marriage. Two days later, supporters of LGBT rights gathered again at the capital in an effort to thwart opponents’ attempt to co-opt Gov. Chet Culver’s state of the state address and intimidate Iowa legislators into pushing for a constitutional amendment that would revoke the rights of lesbian and gay Iowans to wed.

In Washington, D.C., the countdown to legalized same-sex marriage in the District began. On Monday, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton confirmed that the bill approved by the D.C. Council last month had arrived on Capitol Hill and that Congress will have 30 legislative days to review it. The bill becomes law immediately after that review period has ended. In the meantime, Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah announced his scheme to introduce legislation that would subject LGBT rights to mob rule, even though he admits that his chances for success are slim.

Other civil rights opponents were kept at bay. Yesterday, D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Macaluso upheld the city election board’s decision to keep gay marriage off the ballot, finding that ballot initiatives are indeed subject to the city’s Human Right Act, which prohibits discrimination of LGBT individuals.

The importance of having pro-equality elected officials was highlighted in two national contests. In New York, supporters of Democratic U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand were up in arms over former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr.’s interest in becoming the state’s junior senator, in part due to his about face on same-sex marriage and abortion. Ford had been against a woman’s right to choose and was one of the 34 Democrats who voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment, the constitutional ban on same-sex unions. His carpetbagger status does not engender him to many New Yorkers, either.

In Massachusetts, the race between State Attorney General Martha Coakley and Republican state Sen. Scott Brown for the U.S. Senate seat held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy was closely monitored. Brown, who had posed nude for Cosmopolitan magazine, does not support equal rights for all Americans. In 2007, he voted for an amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

In Puerto Rico, justice may yet be served for Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado and his family. The teenager’s alleged murderer, Juan Martinez Matos, was found fit to stand trial Wednesday. However, the island’s LGBT community may be dealt more injustice. Last Friday, it was reported that during an address to religious leaders, Gov. Luis Fortuño proposed that the commonwealth’s constitution be amended to ban same-sex marriage.

Internationally, the pressure on Uganda continues. On Tuesday, Democratic U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon called for a review of Uganda’s preferred trade status as a result of the country’s proposed anti-LGBT bill — a bill that would make homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment or death. Wyden said in a press release that passage of the bill would be a violation of the African Growth & Opportunity Act, which authorizes duty-free importation of certain goods from preferred status countries. He also sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to request that they “communicate immediately to the Ugandan government, and President Yoweri Museveni directly, that Uganda’s beneficiary status under AGOA will be revoked should the proposed legislation be enacted.”

Protests by American and other foreign leaders may have had some effect on Uganda’s president. On Tuesday, Museveni said that the country must take into consideration its foreign policy interests when debating an anti-homosexuality bill. He was quoted as saying, “The prime minister of Canada came to see me and what was he talking about? Gays. Prime Minister Gordon Brown came to see me and what was he talking about? Gays. Mrs. Clinton rang me. What was she talking about? Gays.”

Meanwhile, in Malawi, the lawyers of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, the couple arrested for holding a wedding ceremony last December challenged
the constitutionality of the nation’s homosexuality ban. Homosexuality is punishable in Malawi by up to 14 years in prison.

The religious venom that fuels much of the hatred such as that in Uganda and Malawi spewed forth from the Vatican this week. Reacting to Portugal’s move to legalize same-sex marriage, Pope Benedict XVI called laws enabling such marriages an “attack” on nature.

In Northern Ireland, a rabid homophobe who likewise fanned anti-LGBT sentiment got her comeuppance. The hypocrisy of Parliament Member Iris Robinson was revealed last week when reports came out that she had an affair with a teenage boy. Moreover, she solicited loans for her young lover to open a business. The May-December romance occurred in the summer of 2008, when Robinson was making a name for herself as a bigot, hurling a string of offensive comments about homosexuality.

In Japan, the transgender community suffered a setback this week. A trans man who had a child with his wife was informed by officials that his child was classified as illegitimate. The 27-year-old man transitioned in 2008 and later that year, his wife gave birth to a son using his brother’s sperm. The decision to class his child as illegitimate was based on the grounds that a couple of the same gender cannot have a child.

But in China, the LGBT community continues to gain visibility and officially sanctioned tolerance. On Wednesday, the state newspaper splashed a front-page photo of the country’s first publicly “married” gay couple. Today, China’s first gay pageant is being held in Beijing to choose a representative for the Mr. Gay World contest in Norway next month. And this weekend, the top state-run radio network plans to launch a new program about AIDS that features an HIV-positive host. It’s not clear, however, whether the host is gay. Still, homosexuality remains a sensitive issue in China. It was only decriminalized in 1997 and it was officially considered a form of mental illness until 2001. Same-sex marriages or civil unions have no legal standing.

In South Africa, there appeared to be some confusion over Olympic athlete Caster Semenya’s future. On Wednesday, her coach told the Associated Press that her lawyers confirmed she could compete internationally despite the ongoing controversy over her gender. However, her lawyers later said that they are still working with international track officials to settle the matter.

Finally, in Italy, plans to open one of the world’s first prisons for transgender inmates surfaced. The prison, which will accommodate about 30 people, is expected to house inmates who mainly have convictions for drug-related offences and prostitution. It is thought that Italy has a total of some 60 transgender prisoners. Until now, transgender prisoners have been located in women’s prisons and are often segregated.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon

Monday, January 11, 2010

Taking Responsibility

Originally posted on DC Agenda

The landmark civil rights trial, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which challenges the constitutional validity of California’s Proposition 8, begins today.

It will not decide once and for all whether same-sex couples can wed; experts are anticipating that the verdict will be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Nonetheless, the next few weeks will be an opportunity for Chief Judge Vaughn Walker to collect the building blocks — a detailed factual record — upon which the U.S. Supreme Court could ultimately decide whether we have the same right to marriage as opposite-sex couples.

This record will include documents, testimonies and other materials from both sides from which the judge will issue his ruling. A lot of evidence about the Yes on 8 campaign will be presented, among them depositions from key players. But some of these individuals are protesting the process, including an original sponsor of Prop 8, Hak-Shing William Tam.

Tam voluntarily chose to be an official litigant, a defendant-intervenor, in Perry v. Schwarzenegger. He was and is an ardent and tireless opponent of same-sex marriage, saying that “I dedicated the majority of my working hours between January 2008 and November 2008 toward qualifying Proposition 8 for the ballot and campaigning for its enactment.” During this period, Tam wrote a letter to his church prophesying the apocalyptic results if lesbians and gays were given the same rights as straight people.

”One by one, other states would fall into Satan’s hands,” he wrote. ”Every child, when growing up, would fantasize marrying someone of the same sex. More children would become homosexuals.”

On Jan. 8, he said that he wants out, expressing concern for his and his family’s safety. Through his lawyers, Tam argued that “in the past I have received threats on my life, had my property vandalized and am recognized on the streets due to my association with Proposition 8 … now that the subject lawsuit is going to trial, I fear I will get more publicity, be more recognizable and that the risk of harm to me and my family will increase.”

But as Box Turtle Bulletin notes:

… his concerns about being recognized didn’t seem to have dissuaded Bill Tam from giving interviews and making videos and participating in debates during the campaign. And the worrisome issues didn’t give him enough concern to keep him from petitioning the court in May 2009 to be added as a defendant. And Tam provides no instances since May in which anyone recognizing him has been anything other than “friendly”. He hasn’t even removed from availability the DVD he has called “FAQ: Same-Sex Marriage & Homosexuality” which explains the “Possible Cause of Same Sex Attraction and the Healing” …
He also complained that the case has become more burdensome and intrusive than he had anticipated. This is the probably the more honest reason why he no longer wants to be bothered with it. In his motion to withdraw, he admits:

A second reason that I want to withdraw as a Defendant-Intervenor is that I do not like the burden of complying with discovery requests. I do not like people questioning me on my private personal beliefs. I do not like people questioning me regarding fourteen year old articles I wrote in the Chinese language to my constituents. I don’t like people focusing on a few articles I posted on my website regarding homosexuality and disregarding the 50 or 60 other articles I posted regarding family values subjects. I do not like the exposure of my history to people who are antagonistic to me. In short, I do not like the burden of discovery and the privacy intrusion associated with being a Defendant-Intervernor.
What did he expect? That those who believe in equity and justice would allow the continued oppression of a minority? That rational and fair-minded people would not stand up against him and his ilk and shed light on their superstitious and unfounded beliefs? That freedom loving Americans would not fight their lack of respect for the constitutional separation of church and state? And while I do not condone any damage to his property, much less physical harm to Tam and his family, why is he surprised by the anger and lashing out? Did he expect us to forever remain acquiescent, take the abuse and be satisfied at the margins?

Tam and others like him, who feel no compunction whatsoever in institutionalizing their bigotry and hatred, seem oblivious to the fact that he generated all the trouble and inconvenience he is whining about. He chose his brand of religion. He chose to exercise his rights. He chose to express his opinion. He chose to perpetuate exclusion and discrimination. Choices have consequences.

While he was supposedly harassed for choices only he made, we are harassed, bullied, mocked, threatened, beaten, raped and murdered simply because we happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. None of us choose to be who we are. If there is any choice to be made, it is to live openly and with integrity, a right and freedom enshrined in this nation’s constitution. And we take responsibility for our choice even if for many it means separation from family, friends and society.

So, Tam, stop bellyaching and take responsibility for your choice.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon

Friday, January 08, 2010

Rewind: The week’s LGBT news

Originally posted on DC Agenda

The first week of 2010 gave us an idea how the year will shape up.

Out lesbian and gay elected officials were sworn in. A lot of attention was paid to Annise Parker, the new mayor of Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city. Her ascendance proved once more that out politicians can win on their own merit even in conservative areas. The same was true for Stan Penfold, who became the first openly gay city council member in the Mormon stronghold of Salt Lake City. In California, the State Assembly officially selected John Perez, a gay Latino, as its next speaker.

The Obama administration also continues to welcome well-qualified LGBT people into its ranks. In a move that delighted trans activists and the community at large, defense industry veteran Amanda Simpson was appointed senior technical advisor to the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry & Security. Furthermore, the administration inserted language into the federal jobs web site explicitly barring employment discrimination based on gender identity.

The growing numbers of out individuals in all branches of government can only further the movement. We are becoming more visible and familiar to people in positions of power and influence. We are gaining more advocates in Washington as well as in state and local capitals who can raise awareness about our issues and push for reform in many ways, big and small. This is crucial because progress on key LGBT policy issues will be stalled.

At the marriage equality front, we need to be vigilant and make sure that we do not lose hard fought gains. Well before lesbian and gay New Hampshirites can settle into their new lives as married couples, there are already attempts to put New Hampshire’s newly effected same-sex marriage law to a referendum. In Washington, D.C., two senators and 37 members of the House, all Republicans and anti-LGBT, have taken the side of opponents who are suing to subject equality to mob rule. The gang, which includes Sens. James Inhofe and Roger Wicker, and the usual suspects such as Reps. John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Michele Bachmann, Jason Chaffetz and Virginia Foxx, filed an amicus brief in support of the anti-gay litigants.

In New Jersey, same-sex marriage proponents got the state’s senate to debate allowing gay couples to wed, a Hail Mary pass which, not altogether surprising, failed. However, Lambda Legal released a statement promising to go back to court and fight for marriage equality.

In Rhode Island, the state legislature defended the single right they had won for domestic partners: the right to make funeral arrangements for each other. Gov. Donald Carcieri had vetoed the legislation, but Rhode Island’s lawmakers overrode the veto.

Moreover, the Democratic Party got some bad news which does not auger well for us and our policy objectives. Longtime Sens. Christopher Dodd and Byron Dorgan announced they will not seek re-election during the mid-term elections. Democrats are thus likely to lose the super majority they currently enjoy. Legislative efforts to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” along with various other LGBT agenda items, are for all intents and purposes shelved indefinitely.

In other news, pro-equality laws took effect in California. The state now recognizes the legal status of out-of-state same-sex marriages that occurred before Prop 8 went into effect in November 2008, and officially commemorates the birthday of LGBT civil rights martyr Harvey Milk.

This week, the 22-year HIV immigration ban which had stopped anyone living with HIV/AIDS from entering the United States was lifted. The first self-identified HIV-positive individual was welcomed at JFK airport in New York. Clement Rulands, a Dutch national, was quoted as saying “I feel proud to be here without the need to hide my status … this is not about me, but about the thousands of others who were afraid to disclose their HIV status.”

Internationally, as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals become more visible, empowered and politically engaged, there will be progress as well backlash. A whole lot of backlash.

In Portugal, the predominantly Roman Catholic country’s parliament passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage. The proposed law now goes to conservative president Anibal Cavaco Silva, who can very well choose to veto it. In another country where the Catholic Church is a major player, the LGBT community continues to fight for its rightful place in society. Ang Ladlad, a Philippine LGBT group that seeks party-list accreditation is asking the nation’s Supreme Court to review the decision of the Commission on Elections to reject Ang Ladlad’s petition for accreditation last year based on religious arguments.

Not surprisingly, Catholic and other fundamentalist leaders are up in arms over civil and human rights won by LGBT people. In Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera said during a homily, “We respect and love those with different sexual tendencies and we should safeguard their human rights, but they cannot be allowed to raise families or be called a family.” Along with other denominational leaders, Rivera is preparing to mount a crusade to contain the plague of equality within the city, whose legislative assembly had approved gay marriage and the adoption of children by gay couples.

But the insidious influence of fundamentalist leaders is nowhere more appalling than in Africa. The outrage over Uganda’s “kill the gays” bill grows. This week both The New York Times and The Washington Post issued scathing editorials on the matter. In Malawi, three human rights activists were arrested for helping to defend the gay couple that held a same-sex engagement ceremony last month. The couple had been arrested, denied bail and subjected to humiliating medical examinations.

In other international news, a South Korean court ruled in favor of a gay Pakistani man who had sought refugee status on the basis that he faced persecution back home. While in Iran, the government decided to no longer classify trans people as mentally disturbed, however they can still be classified as “people with hormonal imbalance” or “diabetics.”

Locally and internationally, our march continues but it will not be easy or fast.

Next week, we should watch out for the federal case against Prop 8 in California. The trial begins on Monday and is expected to last for weeks. It will be the first occasion in federal court where a judge must answer the question of whether the Constitution forbids states like from restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples. The courtroom footage will not be streamed live, but will be available on YouTube daily.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon

Thursday, January 07, 2010

All’s Not Fair in Love, Marriage & Immigration

Originally posted on Spar & Bernstein's Law Link

My friends, Laura and Tom, are getting married, and I couldn’t be happier.

Their courtship began in Oxford, England, and their life as a legally committed and bound couple starts in Washington, D.C.

I am especially happy for Laura, a British national, as her marriage to Tom will allow him to sponsor her for a green card which she should have in a few months. Later on, should she choose, she could naturalize and become an American citizen. This all makes it easier for her to travel in and out of the country as well as find gainful employment in the U.S. Moreover, as a straight couple, they are instantly entitled to over 1,100 benefits and privileges gay couples are denied simply because they happen not to be heterosexuals.

I can not help but contrast Laura and Tom’s situation to John and mine.

Although my partner and I have been together for over 11 years, he is not able to sponsor me, a Philippine national, for permanent residency. And even though we are registered domestic partners in New York City and Washington, D.C. and plan to marry when the District’s same-sex legislation takes into effect, doing so would not offer a path to citizenship for me as immigration is a federal matter. Neither will we have access to the many benefits and privileges straight people take for granted. We will not be able to file combined federal taxes.

In most jurisdictions in the country, we will not have visitation rights if one of us were hospitalized. God forbid something were to happen to either of us while in a state that grants no rights to gay couples, the other will not be able to make life and death decisions a spouse ordinarily makes. Anything we give or leave to each other – property, money and other material possessions – will be taxed. The list goes on.

When we travel, we carry our individual wills and health care proxy documents – what straight couple would feel the need to do so?

Even though I consider the United States my home, have lived here legally for several years, and in my heart know that I am as American as my native born cousins, I have no recourse but to wait for my mother’s sponsorship on my behalf to come through. She married my stepfather a few years ago and like most other foreign nationals who marry a different-sex American, she got her green card.

Now if immigration reform happens and if it includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) families like mine, then there would be no difference, as there shouldn’t be, between different-sex and same-sex couples, at least when it comes to civil rights.

Unfortunately, the bill recently introduced Rep. Luis Gutierrez omits provisions immigration activists have been lobbying for, particularly one that allows LGBT individuals to sponsor their same-sex partners for residency and citizenship. This is not altogether a surprise, as proponents of immigration reform seek the support of conservative forces such as the Catholic and other fundamentalist churches which hold sway over millions of constituents and votes.

The simple fact is that equality for LGBT individuals and families is about civil rights. I hope that as immigration reform legislation is debated and crafted in the future, lawmakers would do what is just and equitable. I hope that the various stakeholders and interest groups realize that it is about the freedom and equality enshrined in the constitution. In the meantime, the LGBT community continues to struggle for civil rights for all Americans. Gratefully, friends, family and other straight allies have come around and joined the fight.

As they celebrate their union, Laura and Tom do so being well aware and saddened that too many other loving and committed couples are not as lucky. In lieu of favors, they have chosen to donate to Immigration Equality, a national organization fighting for equality under U.S. immigration law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and HIV-positive individuals. If only more folks were as clear-sighted, fair-minded and generous as this young couple.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Hateful Diversion

Also posted on DC Agenda.

The mainstream media has finally caught up with the alternative press and blogosphere’s coverage of another kind of terrorism in Africa: the proposed codification of homophobia and legitimization of abuse of LGBT women and men. The story has even merited two articles and an editorial in the New York Times.

Yesterday’s New York Times editorial reads:
The government’s venom is chilling: “Homosexuals can forget about human rights,” James Nsaba Buturo, who holds the cynically titled position of minister of ethics and integrity, said recently.

What makes this even worse is that three American evangelical Christians, whose teachings about “curing” gays and lesbians have been widely discredited in the United States, helped feed this hatred. Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer gave a series of talks in Uganda last March to thousands of police officers, teachers and politicians in which, according to participants and audio recordings, they claimed that gays and lesbians are a threat to Bible-based family values.

Another development from the continent which has not garnered the same attention is the arrest of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, two men who were married in a traditional but symbolic ceremony in Malawi last month. Homosexuality is banned in the conservative country and carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. The couple was promptly arrested, denied bail out of “concern” for their safety, and has been subjected to humiliating medical tests to find out whether they have consummated their union or not.

The political and religious leaders of Uganda and Malawi would protest that they have the best interest of their people in mind, as clearly – at least to their superstitious and nonrational thinking – “deviant” lifestyles threaten the stability of society not to mention their promised place in heaven. Their outdated and dangerous ideas have been encouraged and at times funded by American evangelicals and politicians.

I wonder though if crusaders like Lively, Brundidge and Schmierer, along with their powerful African collaborators, have noticed other “immoral” behavior practiced in Uganda and Malawi.

For starters, have the self-righteous fundamentalists noticed the rampant and very legal practice of polygamy in Uganda, a predominantly Christian nation? Although polygamous marriages are not legally recognized under Malawian civil marriage laws, customary laws allow men to have many wives. Last I checked, having multiple wives is not sanctioned by any major Christian denomination or sect, much less evangelical ones. Putting aside culture and biblical imperative, this practice discriminates against women, perpetuates their status as chattel, and denies them basic rights enjoyed by their counterparts in developed nations with liberal democracies.

Rather than dictating who should sleep with whom, why don’t Ugandan and Malawian leaders and their American patrons address the greater problems of poverty and disease, in part caused by the ineptitude and corruption of their governments?

Transparency International, a global network that seeks to end the devastating impact of corruption on men, women and children around the world, ranks Uganda and Malawi among the top 100 corrupt nations in the world. Not surprisingly, both countries are among the poorest. In Uganda, over 75 percent of its population live on less than $2.00 a day while in Malawi, 90 percent of its people survive on such meager resources.

These countries’ health indicators are staggering. In 2007, Uganda had 940,000 people living HIV/AIDS placing it 10th in the world, followed by Malawi which then counted 930,000 adults and children living with the disease. In the same year, Uganda was the second country with the most AIDS orphans: 1,200,000. Malawi had 560,000. In Uganda, 65 out of 1,000 infants die within the first year of life due to causes such as dehydration and diarrhea. In Malawi, 89 out of a thousand babies don’t survive their first year. In Uganda, 61 out of 1,000 women die while giving birth. In Malawi, 85 out of a thousand. One can go on and on and on.

But African politicians, spurred by American evangelicals, would rather that their people forget hunger, disease and death and be diverted by the private lives of a minority and by some promise of eternal salvation. American fundamentalists in turn, would rather indulge in their inexplicable obsession with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sex than help solve the real problems that beset this country and the world. They would rather spread hate than alleviate suffering.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon