Friday, February 26, 2010

Rewind: Week of Feb.6

Originally posted on DC Agenda

This week, members of New York’s LGBT community and its leaders lashed out at a pair of politicians for broken promises and perceived duplicity. Is this the next wave of LGBT activism? Are we finally getting angry enough not to take it anymore?

A political action committee, Fight Back New York, which was founded in response to the defeat of same-sex marriage in the state’s senate in December, launched its campaign against the 30 Republican and 8 Democratic senators who caused the loss. The group’s one and only aim is to defeat these politicians and to replace them with pro-equality legislators by November. It has identified its first target. As Bill Smith, an adviser to the committee, explained, “Politicians who deny gays and lesbians basic equality should be thrown out of office, starting with convicted criminal Hiram Monserrate.”

Monserrate was expelled by his colleagues earlier this month following his misdemeanor assault conviction. He had promised his support for the gay marriage bill, but voted against it while jockeying for power in Albany. He is currently running in a special election to regain his seat and the new political action committee is ready to spend generously and campaign tenaciously toward his defeat.

Meanwhile, in his quest to become the next junior U.S. senator from New York, Harold Ford Jr. was aggressively booed and heckled during his visit to the Stonewall Democratic Club on Wednesday. The community has been skeptical of the carpetbagger from Tennessee who had voted to ban gay marriage while serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Ford was interrupted by chants of “No more lies, no more lies” and “snake-oil Harry, go away.”

Although some may find Ford’s reception lacking in civility and Fight Back New York’s focus on defeating rather than supporting political candidates not the best use of resources, the anger and frustration many of us feel should come as no surprise. In spite of all the support and loyalty the community has given to Democrats who control the White House and both chambers of Congress, progress has been painfully slow and opportunities have been squandered.

Take the ongoing debate over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” for instance. Why is there even a debate?

Poll after poll after poll has shown that a vast majority of Americans have no problem with gay troops serving openly. The rank and file are aware of brave lesbians, gays and bisexuals fighting by their side. Moreover, a comprehensive new study of militaries that allow openly gay service members concludes that a speedy implementation of a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will not be harmful.

Military officials are also coming out in support of Adm. Michael Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ call to finally get rid of the discriminatory and harmful law. The top commanding general in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, has said he believes that everyone — gay and straight — should be allowed to serve in the military “as long as we are still able to fight our wars.” He told reporters Monday that the policy has been a “non-issue” to him.

Nonetheless, many in Congress are still hemming and hawing, purposely delaying any action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Those arguing to take it slow, however, did get support from top Army, Air Force and Marine Corps officers who testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that they are not keen on overturning the 17-year-old law. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey argued that “we just don’t know the impacts on readiness and military effectiveness.” Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway told lawmakers, “I would encourage your work, mine and that of the working group to be focused on a central issue and that is the readiness of the armed forces of the United States to fight this nation’s wars.” One wonders if their recalcitrance is generational rather than rational; both men are in their sixties.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman did announce, though, that he will sponsor legislation to repeal the ban on lesbian and gay service members. He will be joining Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a fellow member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in advocating for the change in the Senate. He was realistic, however, about the prospects of lifting the ban. On Tuesday, he told reporters, “I’m not kidding myself … of course, I’d like to get it done this year, but it’s going to be hard.” Sen. Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee and ardent opponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” shares Lieberman’s doubt, telling reporters that he doesn’t think there are enough votes to end the law this year.

In other news, there has been incremental progress in the fight to enact same-sex marriage. In Minnesota, three bills relating to same-sex unions were heard before the House’s Civil Justice Committee on Monday. One proposal would allow two consenting adults to enter into “civil union contracts,” regardless of their gender. Another would recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states as legally valid in Minnesota. And the third — and most far-reaching legislation — would legalize gay marriage by removing gender-based terminology in existing state statute. Although no votes were taken on any of the bills and no additional hearings are scheduled, the conversation has begun.

Also, on Tuesday, Democrats in West Virginia’s House of Delegates shot down Republican attempts to ban same-sex marriage. The following day, Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler declared that effective immediately, the state would recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and that Maryland agencies should begin affording out-of-state gay couples all the rights they have been awarded in other places. This is good news for same-sex couples who are barred from marriage in Maryland but could easily go to Washington, D.C., beginning next month to get married.

Perhaps we should all take our cue from our sisters and brothers in New York and vent our anger and frustration by actively opposing anti-LGBT politicians and wholeheartedly endorsing and supporting candidates and officials who have a proven track record of working for equality and justice for all Americans.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Grabbing the tiger's tail

Originally posted on DC Agenda

We are discriminated against for who we happen to be — gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

For LGBT of color, it is not uncommon to face discrimination for looking and, at times, sounding different. This double dose of societal bigotry is compounded by the homophobia they suffer within their own communities.

It is therefore groundbreaking that during New York City’s Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade yesterday, a 300-strong contingent of queer Asian Pacific Islanders was part of the festivities. Wearing rainbow bandannas, waving versions of the fish and the phoenix (traditional Chinese symbols for prosperity and renewal) and marching a costumed tiger with its own rainbow armbands, the group was not only supported by LGBT organizations but by prominent community and city leaders as well. The group explains why they are marching here:

Homophobia and discrimination continue to divide Asian American families and communities. Lunar New Year is a time when families come together to strengthen ties to our communities. This year, we are joining the Lunar New Year Parade to challenge homophobia and to honor all of the different kinds of families in our community.

They were there to educate the Chinese and wider Asian Pacific Islander communities that we are their daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers. That there is no losing “face” in acknowledging — and even being proud of — a queer family member. That we can be fully ourselves while fulfilling our responsibilities to the family and the community. Their participation in the parade shows recent immigrants and those who cling to old ideas that we live in a democratic and pluralistic country where all are equal and where there is separation of church and state. Their presence gave hope to closeted and recently arrived Asian newcomers. They empowered and they were empowered.

While the inclusion of an LGBT group didn’t cause much controversy in New York City’s Lunar New Year parade, the same could not be said in the Westminster Vietnamese Tet Parade in California a week earlier. Little Saigon is located in Westminster and is home to the nation’s largest Vietnamese immigrant community. Several LGBT groups had registered to participate in the community’s Lunar New Year parade and several religious groups, including the Vietnamese Interfaith Council of America, which includes Christian and Buddhist religious leaders, immediately protested. Several Roman Catholic organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus and 50 members of the Vietnamese Martyrs Council, withdrew from the parade. However, Greg Johnson, the director of Westminster’s Department of Community Services & Recreation, said that only Catholic groups pulled out of the parade. More importantly, he stressed that the city cannot and should not discriminate against any one group based on race, gender or sexual orientation.

Hats off to the courageous women and men who grabbed the tiger by the tail, came out loud and proud as LGBT and Asian, and challenged conservative Asian Pacific Islander communities to reconsider their antiquated ideas about us and our families. Thank goodness for the freedoms we have in this country. Freedoms that many immigrants did not have in their native countries and now enjoy. Freedoms which are ours as well — a reality which they have to accept and respect.

You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Rewind: Week of Feb.19

Originally posted on DC Agenda

Conservatives have descended upon the nation’s capital for their annual pow-wow and pep rally. They are poised and determined to win back the nation and in the process undermine hard-fought progress won by our community and allies.

The Conservative Political Action Conference, which began yesterday, acknowledges GOProud as one of its sponsors but does not allow any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender voices to be heard in its colorful agenda. The only gay right-wing voices heard this week were those of author and blogger Andrew Sullivan and Britain’s openly-gay Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Nick Herbert. They were both part of a forum at the Cato Institute that asked whether there is a place for gay people in the conservative movement.

Sullivan ended up debating National Organization for Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher on same-sex marriage while Herbert made solid arguments for welcoming LGBT people into the right-wing fold. The Tory pointed out that equality for all citizens is a basic tenet of conservatism and admitted that his party’s leadership had realized that if they were to remain relevant and win the votes they need, then they had no option but to open the doors to queer folk. His admonishment should be taken seriously by the GOP. The rest of the nation, particularly the next generation, is fast abandoning social conservatism and its demonization of LGBT individuals and families. If the Republican Party and other American conservatives are to live up to our ideals of freedom and equality, as well as secure the votes of gay conservatives and socially progressive independents, then they have to make room for those among us who’d like to be under their tent.

Unfortunately, social conservatism is very much alive and kicking in the United States, reinvigorated by the worsening disenchantment with the Obama administration and ineffectual Democratic “controlled” Congress.

In Virginia, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell applied principles he articulated in his controversial graduate school thesis — that government policy should favor married couples over “cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators” — by quietly and unceremoniously stripping protections for LGBT state employees two weeks ago. On Feb. 5, he signed an executive order that prohibits discrimination “on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities,” but not sexual orientation, which McDonnell’s predecessor, Democrat Tim Kaine, had added.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the Catholic Archdiocese ended its 80-year-old foster care program this week in protest of the legalization of same-sex marriage in the city. The diocese’s social service arm responsible for the service, Catholic Charities, runs more than 20 programs for the District and receives $20 million from the city’s coffers. Although the church will be exempt from marrying same-sex couples, its leaders nonetheless chose to end aid to the needy, an apparent tantrum for not successfully bullying the D.C. City Council into abandoning gay marriage legislation.

The threat posed by LGBT people gaining basic human rights and acceptance in some societies is felt all the way to the top of the Vatican. Italian Cardinal Carlo Caffarra proclaimed that public officials who openly support same-sex marriage cannot consider themselves to be Catholic. It is worse for lawmakers who introduce or vote in favor of gay marriage bills. “It’s impossible to consider oneself a Catholic if that person in one way or another recognizes same-sex marriage as a right,” according to a doctrinal note Caffara released last weekend concerning “Marriage & Homosexual Unions.”

Such fundamentalist zealotry has gone to such extremes in Africa, where the very lives of gay, bisexual and transgender women and men are threatened every day.

In Malawi, the homosexual witch hunt has intensified since the arrest and incarceration of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who held a public marriage ceremony in December. A 21-year-old man was sentenced to two months of community service for pasting pro-gay rights posters. A senior government minister expelled a woman from her area even after a court acquitted her on charges of having sex with two girls. A 60-year-old man has been arrested and accused of sodomizing a much younger man. Police are hunting for a group of underground gay rights activists who are distributing pro-gay rights leaflets.

In Uganda, it has been reported that David Bahati, chief of the Scout Board of Uganda and author of the pending anti-gay bill, is proposing that all serial homosexual offenders, including scouts and scout leaders, should be hanged. Children are not exempt. And to stoke anti-LGBT hysteria, Christian pastor Martin Ssempa has been showing gay pornography he downloaded from the Internet at his church to “educate” his flock. He also plans on taking his show on the road and to enlighten parliamentarians on the joys of gay sex.

However, while conservatives may feel particularly empowered now and will do all they can to halt our progress toward full equality, we do have allies and fair-minded politicians and leaders who are willing to do right by us and our constitution.

On Monday, the New Hampshire House rejected a bill that sought to repeal the state’s new same-sex marriage law. Opponents of the anti-LGBT bill, which outnumbered proponents two-to-one, felt strongly that it would be wrong to backtrack and to deny same-sex couples the rights afforded to opposite-sex couples.

Our military leaders and the administration continue to learn that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not an issue for the majority of Americans and those in the military. During a recent question and answer session with about two dozen troops, Adm. Michael Mullen once again confirmed that serving with openly gay service members is a non-issue for enlisted young women and men. Even former Vice President Dick Cheney has come around on the issue. In an interview on “This Week,” Cheney said, “Twenty years ago, the military were strong advocates of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ when I was secretary of defense. I think things have changed significantly since then.” He articulated his openness to the repeal of the discriminatory law, adding, “When the chiefs come forward and say, ‘We think we can do it,’ then it strikes me that it’s — it’s time to reconsider the policy.”

The GOP and conservatives seem to be finding their way out of the wilderness. This is not altogether a bad thing and can be good for our democracy. However, the Republican Party has to move into the 21st century, loosen the choke hold of religious fundamentalism and reclaim conservatism’s core values of limited government, individual freedom and fiscal responsibility.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The value of being counted

Originally posted on DC Agenda

How many gay, bisexual and transgender individuals does it take to create change? That’s hard to tell. How many of us are there?

Estimates of LGBT people range anywhere from 3 to 5 percent of the total population, but no one really knows. Although demographers and other social scientists have tried to approximate our size, the counts they produce are rough estimates at best. It is practically impossible to get a statistically representative and random sample from which anyone can extrapolate the total number of LGBT people in the country. Most researchers default to identifying their samples in metropolitan areas such as San Francisco and New York. That’s understandable as so since many of us flock to these places, but the reality is not all of us do.

It is crucial to know how many we are and where we live as we continue our struggle for equal rights. If we know how many we are, we can go to political candidates and elected officials and discuss with them our needs — as well as how many votes they stand to lose if they ignore us. We can approach government agencies and demand, as tax-paying citizens, the services and programs we require. We can turn to community-based organizations, nonprofits and foundations and let them know about our community’s issues. We can tell our neighbors and fellow Americans that there are millions of us and we can’t be ignored. We can find each other and better mobilize.

Numbers are powerful in our society and being able to tell how many millions strong we are is power. Consider how politicians have been vying for the votes of Latinos, for example, the fastest growing segment of Americans.

So, how do we begin counting? We can start by participating in the 2010 Census, which happens next month. The decennial count is mandated by the Constitution and attempts an accurate count of all Americans and households, which include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and families. Census statistics determine not only congressional seats but the distribution of billions of federal dollars for social services. Philanthropic and nonprofit organizations use the information gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau to plan their programs and services. Researchers and journalists cull the data to make conclusions about certain groups. Politicians monitor who they need to curry favor from within their jurisdictions.

This year’s Census is groundbreaking. Our Families Count, a public education campaign spearheaded by LGBT leaders and community organizers, explains in its website:

What makes this year’s Census even more historic is the unprecedented and welcoming outreach by U.S. Census leaders and managers to include the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and allied community in these efforts, as a way to achieve the nation’s most accurate count possible.

Dr. Robert Groves, Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, endorsed this initiative: “We are charged each 10 years to provide Congress with a Census they trust to be accurate and complete. We are grateful to our LGBT community partners in helping us achieve this significant responsibility, and to help educate, motivate and inspire everyone to take part and above all, to be visible and counted.”

The bureau has nearly two dozen “partnership specialists” across the country who work closely with LGBT community groups and leaders to make sure that we all participate and are duly counted.

It must be acknowledged, however, that this effort is incomplete and just the beginning in the long and difficult process of painting a true picture of our numbers and lives. We will not be asked about our sexual orientation or gender identity. Only same-sex couples will give demographers an indication of our sexual orientation. Those of us who are living with a same-sex spouse or partner can indicate our relationship status by checking either the “husband/wife” or “unmarried partner” box.

Getting the U.S. Census Bureau to count individuals will have to come next. And it will not be easy. As the folks behind Our Families Count admit:

It takes years to successfully advocate for the inclusion of questions on the census, and the advocacy must be funded by congressional legislation. We are just emerging from the hostile and indifferent years of the previous administration, when this advocacy was largely ignored.

Nonetheless, the 2010 Census will provide a reliable count of same-sex couples in America and document how we are dispersed throughout all states, cities and counties. Moreover, many organizers of Our Families Count are leading an independent coalition that seeks to include us and our families in most major federal data collection efforts, such as the longer, annual Census Bureau form called the American Community Survey.

So when you get the Census form in the mail, fill it out. If for some reason you don’t get one, contact the U.S. Census Bureau. Make sure we are counted. Let everyone know that we are queer, that we are here, and that our families count.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Rewind: Week of Feb. 12

Originally posted on DC Agenda

Snowmageddon may have kept our nation’s lawmakers from work this week — and effectively delayed same-sex marriage in D.C. — but state legislators have been keeping themselves busy.

On Tuesday, Iowa state representatives and senators blocked efforts by their GOP colleagues to amend the Iowa Constitution to ban gay marriage. Pro-LGBT Democrats, who hold majorities in both chambers, argued that their constituents have far more pressing concerns that indulging conservative homophobia.

Concurrently, in New Hampshire’s House of Representatives, the Judiciary Committee nixed two bills that attempted to reverse the state’s marriage equality law — one through repeal and the other through referendum.

Yesterday, Rhode Island state representatives elected the state’s first openly gay African American House speaker, Gordon Fox. This came in the heels of the announcement by three gubernatorial candidates — former Sen. Lincoln Chafee, State Attorney General Patrick Lynch, and Frank Caprio — that they support marriage equality. This bodes well for expanded civil rights in the only New England state that has not made same-sex marriage legal.

Prominent figures in the marriage debate also have been in the news.

In New York, state senators made history by expelling their colleague Hiram Monserrate who had been convicted of domestic assault. Monserrate was also one of the eight Democrats who voted against marriage equality in the Empire State, disappointing LGBT New Yorkers who had supported him.

In California, Proposition 8 trial judge Vaughn Walker was outed in the mainstream media, prompting some to question whether he could be impartial in ruling on the groundbreaking case. It has been pointed out that, ironically, Walker almost didn’t make it to the federal bench because he was perceived as anti-LGBT. He had helped the U.S. Olympic Committee stop the LGBT community from calling athletic competitions in San Francisco the Gay Olympic Games. He also callously put a lien on the home of a gay games leader who was dying of AIDS. His first appointment in 1987 by President Reagan was thus opposed by House Democrats, led by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and stalled out by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Opponents of marriage equality were given some great ammunition this week when the New York Times highlighted a study on gay men and made sweeping conclusions about lesbian and gay couples. Although the research out of San Francisco State University only includes men and does not have a statistically valid and representative sample, the author carelessly pronounces that “monogamy is not a central feature for many” gay relationships. Although only gay and bisexual men in the Bay Area are included in the project, the article leads by recounting the story of one lesbian couple and continues to make hasty generalizations about all LGBT couples.

Meanwhile, there were some uplifting stories this week.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco school board voted to fund a substantial increase in instruction and services related to LGBT issues even though the district is planning major layoffs and program cuts amid the recession. School board members unanimously agreed that it is crucial to support LGBT youth, who are more likely to experience bullying and skip school because they are afraid. About 13 percent of the city’s middle school students and 11 percent of high school students self-identify as LGBT.

The following day, Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the Administration on Aging announced a three-year, $900,000 grant to SAGE, the nation’s oldest and largest organization serving LGBT older adults. The award is for the creation of the nation’s only national resource center on LGBT aging, which will assist communities across the country in their efforts to provide services and supports for older LGBT people.

Finally, just to be very clear: Lt. Dan Choi has not been ordered to active duty. As Vet Voice explains:

1LT Choi has NOT been ordered back to active duty. It would be difficult to order him “back” to active duty, being that he serves in the New York National Guard, not on active duty, unless he had been mobilized. What has happened is that, with the support of his command, 1LT Choi drilled with his National Guard unit this past weekend for training on critical infantry tasks with his Soldiers.

While it’s good to see 1LT Choi in uniform and back with his unit, the key take away from this story is that the fight isn’t over. 1LT Choi’s discharge is still pending at DA. At any time, this leader could be removed from his post and his unit’s cohesion and mission readiness severely damaged as a result.

Yes, the key takeaway is that come rain, sleet or snow, the fight is far from over.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Rewind: Week of Feb. 5

Originally posted on DC Agenda

Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was remarkable not only for paving the way for the despicable law’s demise, but for showcasing the two routes conservatives can take moving forward.

One path is that taken by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It took him a number of years to get to this juncture, but he has chosen to be on the right side of history, be in touch with the majority of Americans, and do what is right by his fellow soldiers. Mullen, who had been nominated to his post by George W. Bush in 2007, told the Senate committee that he believes “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.” He confessed, “No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” He explained that it’s a matter of integrity — “theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.” He clearly meant his own integrity as well.

Then there is the way taken by Sen. John McCain. The Arizona Republican reneged on an earlier promise to heed the military’s top brass on the matter of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Now that both the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are telling us it’s time to repeal the discriminatory law, McCain throws a hissy fit and refuses to budge. Once known for his “maverick” and independent streak, it appears that he has lost his better qualities. Is he pandering to social conservatives to ensure more years in Washington? Or has he yet to accept his defeat to that young upstart, Obama? Or is he simply clinging on to an order that is fast disintegrating — one in which he and other privileged, wealthy and heterosexual white men hold sway?

McCain, joined by a few of his ilk, defiantly displayed how out of synch he is with most of us. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, in particular, uttered inanity that only underscored how divorced these men are from reality. He protested that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would open the flood gates to “alcohol use, adultery, fraternization, and body art” in the military. I believe it’s a bit too late for that.

In other news, at the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday, Obama finally addressed the maniacal and murderous anti-LGBT fervor gripping Uganda and other African Nations. He said, “We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are — whether it’s here in the United States or, as [Secretary of State] Hillary [Clinton] mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.”

Clinton, who gave the keynote address, had stressed that the administration is “looking to take on religious discrimination and violations of human rights. But we are also standing up for girls and women, who too often in the name of religion are denied basic human rights. And we are standing up for gays and lesbians, who deserve to be treated as full human beings.”

On Monday, newly minted Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced that he had decided to shelve his predecessor’s proposal to allow same-sex partners to be covered under the state’s employee health plan. The proposal had been developed by outgoing Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine weeks before the god-fearing McDonnell took over the reins of the Old Dominion State. It would have expanded benefits to qualified adults — straight and gay partners, roommates, caregivers, children and other family members — who live in the same house as an insured state employee.

The following day, in neighboring D.C., Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah and eight other GOP senators introduced legislation that would require the District to subject marriage equality to a referendum before issuing marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples next month. In response, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said that the Republicans are “disregarding the most basic of American self-government principles.” She argued that “marriage is a fundamental state’s right in the District as elsewhere in America, not a political football to be used or abused to score points back home at the expense of the people of the District, and of democratic principles.”

And while many of us were riveted on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hearing, the U.S. Tax Court quietly issued a long-awaited decision in a case that has very positive consequences for transgender people. In O’Donnabhain v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, the court ruled that treatment for gender identity disorder qualifies as medical care under the Internal Revenue Code, and that medical treatments for GID, including surgery and hormone therapy, are therefore deductible.

Karen Loewy of Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which represented the plaintiff, celebrated the verdict.

“This decision treats Rhiannon O’Donnabhain the way she deserves to be treated — like any hard-working American taxpayer with medical expenses.” She pointed out that “this has been a no-brainer. Every mainstream medical authority from the American Psychiatric Association to the National Institutes of Health recognizes the legitimacy of providing medical care for transgender people. Dismissing these medical expenses as illegitimate and not deductible was discrimination, pure and simple.”

On Wednesday, Maryland lawmakers rejected an effort by their own to prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages lawfully performed elsewhere. Del. Emmett Burns Jr., a Democrat and minister, had proposed the bill as a pre-emptive strike against an anticipated legal opinion the state’s attorney general has been working on. It has been predicted that the attorney general will allow same-sex marriages to be recognized in Maryland, following the state’s legal tradition of recognizing unions, including common-law marriages, which are illegal in Maryland but lawful elsewhere. Same-sex marriage is still not legal in the state.

Finally this week, thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans activists and straight allies gather in Dallas for Creating Change 2010, the National Conference on LGBT Equality organized by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. In attendance are young and old activists and advocates, organizers and activists of color, public officials and other LGBT leaders. Its primary goal is “to build our movement’s political power from the ground up to secure our overarching goal of full equality, social justice and dignity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the United States.”

Unlike McCain and his friends, these people are not wealthy, privileged and powerful men cocooned in Washington, shaking their fists against welcome change. These ordinary Americans are acting with more wisdom, courage and integrity than the senators, leading the way to our shared future in which the next generation of conservatives, liberals and independents will wonder what the fuss was all about.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.