House and Senate lawmakers on Wednesday pledged to lift the Defense of Marriage Act from the books upon the introduction of legislation that would repeal the anti-gay law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
In the House, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced the legislation, known as the Respect for Marriage Act, along with 108 co-sponsors. Among the supporters are the four openly gay members of Congress: Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.).
On the same day, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), among the 14 senators who voted against DOMA in 1996, introduced companion legislation in the Senate. Among the 18 co-sponsors of the Senate bill are Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
Feinstein’s introduction of the bill in the Senate marks the first time that DOMA repeal legislation has been put forward in the upper chamber of Congress since the law’s passage 15 years ago.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Nadler denounced DOMA for treating married same-sex couples as “complete strangers” under federal law.
“This defies common sense and harms thousands of married couples who are denied federal responsibilities and rights, including access to programs like Social Security, that other couples can count on when getting married,” Nadler said.
Baldwin said those who have been fighting DOMA since it became law have always known fairness and justice were on their side.
“Repealing DOMA is important symbolically and substantively,” Baldwin said. “Now that we have repealed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the Defense of Marriage Act remains the only example of overt discrimination against gays and lesbians written into our federal statutes.”
In a separate conference later in the day, Feinstein noted that DOMA bars married same-sex couples from obtaining access to government programs that straight couples enjoy for economic stability.
“Right now, because of DOMA, these couples cannot take advantage of federal protections available to every other married couple in this country,” she said.
Gillibrand said the fight to repeal DOMA is about fairness and called the ability to get married and start a family “a basic human right.”
“Every loving couple in America deserves this right, and no politician should stand in their way,” Gillibrand said. “Marriage is the foundation for strong families; it gives couples the base they need to build a long-lasting life together, start a family, raise children and put their children on the successful path for their future.”
Gillibrand commended states throughout the country for legalizing same-sex marriage and added she “looks forward to the day … when marriage equality is the law of the land from coast to coast.”
Passed by Congress in 1996, DOMA was signed into law by President Clinton. Both Clinton and the bill’s sponsor at the time, former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, have come out for repeal of the legislation.
DOMA has two components: one that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage and another that allows states not to recognize such marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
As a result of the component of DOMA known as Section 3, married same-sex couples cannot participate in federal programs. For instance, they can’t file joint federal income faxes, receive spousal benefits under Social Security or obtain exemptions of the estate tax law upon the death of one of the spouses.
At the House news conference, Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, said repeal of DOMA is important because “we do not have second-class citizens, and we should not have second-class marriages.”
“To be excluded from marriage … is personal and a real hardship,” Wolfson said. “It is an indignity and it is manifest injustice when it is discrimination practiced by the government.”
In addition to repealing DOMA, the Respect for Marriage Act contains a “certainty provision” that would allow same-sex couples married in one juridiction to continue to receive the federal benefits of marriage even if they move to a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.
But the proposed legislation wouldn’t cover all relationship recognition that same-sex couples can access throughout the United States. Gay couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships aren’t covered under the legislation.
Married same-sex couples that claim they’ve experienced hardship under DOMA were present at the news conferences to advocate for the law’s repeal.
Pali Cooper, a chiropractor from Corte Madera, Calif., who married her spouse, Jeanne Rizzo, executive director of the Breast Cancer Fund, in 2008 when same-sex marriage was legal in California, said DOMA prevented her and her spouse from receiving full rights under the law.
“We’re married in California, but we’re single with the government, and it’s confusing, cumbersome and it’s simply unnecessary,” Cooper said.
Rizzo recalled that when returning from a trip abroad, U.S. Customs forced she and her spouse to re-enter into the United States in separate waiting lines because they weren’t legally married in the eyes of the federal government.
“Right at that moment, it really, really hit me — the difference between, ‘Yes, we were all celebrating being married in California,’ but in the eyes of our government, we were not,'” Rizzo said.
Several lawsuits seeking to overturn the part of DOMA prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex couples are making their way through the courts. Last month, President Obama declared the law unconstitutional and said he would no longer defend the statute against litigation in court, although House Speaker John Boehner has directed counsel to defend the law.
Nadler said opponents of the law shouldn’t wait for the lawsuits to end before moving ahead legislatively.
“Rather than delegating the issue to the court, Congress should repeal DOMA now and bring an end to the harm it causes gay and lesbian families each and every day,” Nadler said.
The House version of the DOMA repeal legislation has new co-sponsors that weren’t seen in the 111th Congress when the bill was first introduced in that chamber, including Frank, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
In the previous Congress, Frank said he wasn’t a co-sponsor of the legislation because he thought the certainty provision of the bill would cause political problems. Frank said he changed his mind because of the importance of educating House members.
“It just seemed to me that that was the more important message to get across at this point,” Frank said. “I’m less worried about the distraction on the question of the recognition by one state violating another state’s right.”
Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, explained that Pelosi rarely co-sponsored any legislation during the time when Democrats held a majority in the chamber.
“She sponsored bills very rarely as speaker, and she has fought against discrimination her entire congressional career, regardless of what bills she has sponsored as speaker or leader,” Hammill said.
Despite the new support for the legislation in Congress, passage of DOMA repeal legislation remains an uphill battle to say the least — especially with a Republican majority in the House. A spokesperson for Boehner declined to comment on the Respect for Marriage Act.
Nadler said the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee is “uncommitted at this point” on whether to take up the Respect for Marriage Act.
“We’re going to ask for that,” Nadler added. “The fact that 108 people put their names on the bill initially before it’s introduced shows a considerable amount of support for it, obviously.”
In the Democratic-controlled Senate, passage would be difficult even if all 53 Democrats in the chamber voted to approve the repeal legislation. A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) didn’t respond on short notice to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the bill.
A Senate Democratic aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said leadership from the Obama administration and education of members of Congress has to happen before DOMA repeal moves forward.
“What is on everyone’s radar is budget: Budget 1, Budget 2, Budget 3,” the aide said. “That’s what everyone is thinking about right now in the Senate. The problem is you’re going to have to get 60 votes in the Senate for this thing, and that’s a high hurdle, especially with 53 Democrats.”
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said the president is committed to DOMA repeal and will work with Congress to move ahead on the issue.
“The president has long said that DOMA is discriminatory and should be repealed by Congress,” Inouye said. “We welcome the introduction of bills that would legislatively repeal DOMA, and look forward to working with lawmakers to achieve that goal.”
Even if proponents of DOMA repeal don’t pass the legislation in this Congress, Feinstein said the bill’s supporters will continue working for the bill in the years ahead.
“It’s a long road; we have undertaken to go on that road and make those changes,” Feinstein said. “As has been said, whether it takes one year, or two years, or three years, or four years, we are committed to it.”
Feinstein said she thinks the legislation could pass out of the Senate Judiciary Committee after the panel holds hearings on the issue, although she said she doesn’t have a timeline for when she thinks the legislation would progress in the Senate.
“I tend to think we’ll be successful at that stage and then will come the time for floor consideration,” Feinstein said. “When the hearings are held, nobody can say we pushed anything through, but everybody has the chance to express themselves.”
One major obstacle for passing the legislation is lack of Republican co-sponsors on either the House or the Senate bill.
In the House. Nadler said he’s hoping Republican co-sponsors will sign on to the bill, noting that members of the GOP, such as former Vice President Dick Cheney and gay former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman have endorsed same-sex marriage.
“The political factors that made for less Republican support are going down,” Nadler said. “I’m confident we will have Republican support over time, and the sooner the better obviously.”
Even though the Senate is under Democratic control, Republican support would be needed to reach the 60-vote threshold to pass the legislation out of the chamber.
Feinstein expressed confidence that Republican support will grow for the Senate version of the bill.
“I think as the community gets to talk with Republicans, and people from Republican areas talk with Republicans, there is growing … support,” Feinstein said.
Christian Berle, deputy executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization will work to obtain more Republican support for the Respect for Marriage Act.
“We are confident that there will be a Republican on the House bill, and potentially the Senate bill, and we will be one step closer to ending this failed policy,” Berle said. “We look forward to help building a broad, bipartisan majority that will get repeal of DOMA to the president’s desk, and get the federal government out of the marriage business.”
Alarming numbers of Texas Trans kids in crisis over litany of anti-Trans bills
“Under the guise of protecting children- Texas legislators are directly harming thousands of transgender & nonbinary youth”
NEW YORK – The Trevor Project received nearly 4,000 crisis contacts from transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas in 2021, with many directly stating that they are feeling stressed and considering suicide due to anti-trans laws being debated in their state.
This new data comes during a year when Texas lawmakers have proposed nearly 70 anti-LGBTQ bills, including more than 40 bills that specifically target transgender and nonbinary youth — far more than any other state.
The Texas State Senate passed its anti-trans sports ban SB3 this week, and the companion bill HB10 is now moving forward in the Texas House.
Republican Texas Governor Abbott has prioritized SB 3 and called for a third consecutive special session of the legislature to consider this bill, which would ban transgender student-athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.
“The Trevor Project’s crisis counselors have been hearing from transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas who are scared and worried about anti-trans laws being debated in their state — and some have even expressed suicidal thoughts. This is a crisis. We urge Texas lawmakers to consider the weight of their words and actions — and to reject HB10/SB3,” said Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project.
- Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
- Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
- While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
- Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
- Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.
“As a transgender young person in Texas, this new data from the Trevor Project is not surprising, but it’s nonetheless harrowing and alarming to see this representation of the detrimental impact Texas Lege is having on our community — especially our kids. Lawmakers and proponents of bills like SB3 and HB10 should be alarmed by these statistics, too,” Landon Richie a Trans youth activist and GenderCool Youth Leader from Houston told the Los Angeles Blade.
“Under the guise of protecting children and promoting fairness, Texas legislators are directly harming thousands of transgender and nonbinary youth, denying them the dignity, respect, and childhoods that they deserve. It’s never an exaggeration to say that the passage — and merely debate — of these bills will cost lives,” Richie added.
National mental health organizations like The Trevor Project and state LGBTQ equality groups including Equality Texas and Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) are raising concerns about the impact of such legislation on the mental health and wellbeing of transgender and nonbinary youth.
The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year and 1 in 5 attempted suicide. Further, Trevor released a new research brief earlier this month on LGBTQ youth participation in sports, which found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (nearly 66%) do not actively participate in sports — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating.
If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678678.
2nd largest school district in Utah bans Pride & BLM flags as ‘too political’
“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can”
FARMINGTON, Ut. – Administrators this week in the Davis School District, which is Utah’s 2nd largest school district with 72,987 students, banned LGBTQ Pride and Black Lives Matter flags, saying they are ‘politically charged.’
According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, Davis Schools spokesperson Chris Williams told the paper; “No flags fly in our schools except for the flag of the United States of America.” Williams later walked that statement back adding a clarification that some of the Districts schools have flags from sports team or international countries which are considered “unrelated to politics.”
“What we’re doing is we’re following state law,” said Williams. “State law says that we have to have a classroom that’s politically neutral.”
Amanda Darrow, Director of Youth, Family, and Education at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, told multiple media outlets the school district is “politicizing the rainbow flag” which doesn’t belong on a political list.
“That flag for us is so much more,” said Darrow. “It is just telling us we’re included in the schools, we are being seen in the schools, and we belong in these schools.”
KUTV CBS2 News in Salt Lake City checked with the Utah State Board of Education. In an email, spokesman Mark Peterson said, “There is nothing in code that specifically defines a rainbow flag as a political statement so it would be up to district or charter school policies to make that determination.”
The local Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also weighed in saying in a statement;
“Whether or not a school district has the legal ability to ban inclusive and supportive symbols from classrooms, it is bad policy for them to do so,” the advocacy organization said in a statement. “Utah schools have an obligation to ensure that all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identify, feel welcome inside a classroom. We urge school administrators and teachers to adopt policies that make all students feel safe and included.”
Williams insisted the policy is not meant to exclude anyone and that all students are loved and welcomed – they just want to keep politics out of school he told the Tribune and KUTV.
“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can,” said Williams.
A Utah based veteran freelance journalist, writer, editor, and food photographer weighed in on Twitter highlighting the negative impact of the Davis Schools decision on its LGBTQ youth.
Davis County school district has banned BLM & pride flags and other symbols saying they are politically charged.— Kaz Weida (@kazweida) September 21, 2021
This is why the number 1 killer of Utah kids is suicide, especially among LGBTQ youth. Nearly 52% say they have frequent suicidal ideation.https://t.co/twSZwWvWVl
Davis County School District bans LGTBQ and BLM flags as ‘too political’
Non-binary person reports assault by Proud Boys near Portland
‘They nearly killed me’
It was a typical day for Juniper Simonis. The freelance ecologist decided to break from work for lunch at about 3 p.m. to take their service dog, Wallace, to the local dog park and grab a bite to eat.
But a planned peaceful afternoon quickly turned ugly. Simonis says they survived a gang assault of about 30 perpetrators in Gresham, Ore., a suburb outside of Portland. The Oregon resident encountered the group for only minutes but suffered a concussion, sprained jaw, extensive car damage and verbal assaults, they said.
“They nearly killed me,” they said.
Simonis said they turned into a parking lot to pick up lunch in Gresham, Ore., and stumbled upon a rally that included several members of the Proud Boys — a far-right, ultra-nationalist organization known for its anti-LGBTQ, anti-feminism and neo-fascist ideologies.
There was a “Flag Ride” right-wing rally in a parking lot earlier that day. Simonis was under the impression the event had ended after checking reports on Twitter. After pulling into the lot, originally to look for lunch options, Simonis saw a large gathering still in the lot.
Simonis decided to take pictures of what was happening to post online to warn others and was intentional in keeping their distance, they said. As Simonis was preparing to leave the area, they yelled from inside the car, “Fuck you, fascists, go home.”
“I did not expect this to escalate into violence,” they said.
The attack itself only lasted about three minutes, Simonis said. Simonis was quickly surrounded by several people and physically blocked from leaving the lot. People stepped in front of the parking lot exit, then a car was moved to barricade Simonis. People began to shout homophobic slurs at Simonis, they said.
“I’m in serious trouble now and I know it,” they said.
Simonis was then punched while inside their vehicle and was briefly knocked out. They regained consciousness a few seconds later, and a cinder block was thrown at the car and shattered the back window of their car inches away from their service dog, Wallace.
Simonis got out of the car to assess the damage and make sure their service dog was safe. They quickly got back in their car and was able to leave the lot by maneuvering around the blocked exit, Simonis said.
Looking back at the photos and videos Simonis took before the assault, Simonis said they saw people looking into the camera and acknowledging them taking photos.
“I honestly don’t know if I hadn’t said anything, that … things would have gone any different,” they said.
Last year, Simonis was targeted and arrested by federal police in Portland during the tumultuous Black Lives Matter protests in the city. They were denied medical attention, misgendered, jumped and aggressively handcuffed while taken into custody.
Simonis is still working through legal proceedings in a multi-plaintiff lawsuit.
A witness to the event called the Gresham Police Department, which was only a few blocks away from the incident. But the call went to voicemail and the witness did not leave a message, Simonis said.
Another witness called 911, Simonis said, which led to an officer calling Simonis about 45 minutes after the accident to take a report.
In the police report obtained by the Blade, Simonis is consistently misgendered. Simonis’ sex is also listed as “unknown” in the report. The incident was labeled as vehicle vandalism.
Simonis said the conversation with the officer was filled with victim-blaming and the officer wrote in the report that Simonis should avoid “approaching groups of this nature.”
“At no point in this conversation does he treat me as an actual victim of a crime,” Simonis said.
The Gresham Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Weeks after the assault, Simonis is struggling mentally and physically, they said.
The concussion makes working on a computer virtually impossible because of light sensitivity and trouble focusing, Simonis said. The pain caused by the sprained jaw makes it difficult to focus, as well.
Simonis is not able to begin physical therapy for their jaw until November because of long medical wait times, they said. The cost to repair the car damages will be about $8,000, as well, they said.
The times where Simonis is able to focus are usually taken up by piecing together what happened that day, they said.
“The part of my brain that I use for work has been hijacked functionally by the part of the brain that needed to know what happened to me,” they said. “There is such a painful need to understand what happened to me.”
Because of past traumatic events, like the experience of being in federal custody last year, Simonis said processing and living with the trauma is a bit easier to handle. But their ability to work will be forever changed yet again, they said.
“I’m not able to work at the pace that I used to work at before I was assaulted by DHS. I’ll never be,” they said. “And this is just a further knockdown.”
The trauma of the event has increased Simonis’ hyper-vigilance, as well.
“Every time I hear a car go by, I’m double-checking,” they said.
Even though Simonis has the tools to process and live with the immense trauma, they will never be the same person, they said.
“They fucking changed my life forever. Point blank,” they said. “Not just mentally, but physically and physiologically. I can’t go back to where I was before. I’m lucky that I survived.”
Simonis has reported the attack to the FBI and is pursuing legal action with two specific goals in mind: to heal and to prevent similar crimes from happening.
“I am somebody who believes in abolishing the carceral system and the justice system as it exists and policing,” Simonis said. “But also a 37-year-old trans and disabled person who somehow managed to survive this long. And so naturally has become pragmatic about the world.”
Because of the reaction of the Gresham Police Department, Simonis did not want to work with local officers and instead went to the federal level. But because of the alleged assault by agents in Portland last year, this decision wasn’t easy for them.
Perpetrators in the assault threatened to call the police on Simonis, even though Simonis did not commit a crime. Reporting the crime to the federal level is also a layer of protection, they said.
“All of this is forcing my hand,” they said. There is no easy decision in the situation, they added.
“We all know that crimes are underreported. We hear about it all the time,” they said. And there are reasons why people don’t report crimes and they’re totally understandable. A lot of victims are very concerned about what will happen if they break anonymity. In my situation, I’ve already broken anonymity.”
With recent arrests and crackdowns on the Proud Boys and other hate groups in the United States, Simonis is bracing for a long process.
“This isn’t just going to go on a shelf,” they said.
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