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Stark introduces adoption anti-discrimination bill

Calif. lawmaker wants Obama to endorse measure ‘wholeheartedly’

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Reps. Pete Stark (left) and Jim McGovern on Tuesday introduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A U.S. House member from California on Tuesday introduced legislation that would bar discrimination against LGBT people in adoption cases while calling on President Obama to endorse the bill “wholeheartedly.”

During a news conference, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the legislation, known as the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, said he wants the White House to support his bill fully in response to a question from the Washington Blade on what he’d like to see from the administration on the issue.

“I’d like to see the administration support our position more definitively,” Stark said. “I’ve had some troubles often determining where the administration is on issues, and I think it’s time that President Obama steps up to the bar and makes this — supports it wholeheartedly.”

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said in a statement that Obama believes that adoption rights should be afforded to all Americans and supports the goals of the legislation, but stopped short of offering an explicit endorsement of Stark’s bill. The lack of outright support is unlike the president’s position on other pro-LGBT initiatives, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“The president has long believed that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation,” Inouye said. “He recognizes that adoptive families come in many forms, and that we must do all we can to break down barriers to ensure that all qualified caregivers have the ability to serve as adoptive families. While we have not reviewed this specific legislation, we share its goals to expand adoption rights and move the dialogue forward on this issue.”

The Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which has 33 original co-sponsors, would restrict federal funds for states that allow discrimination in adoption or foster care placement based on the sexual orientation, marital status or gender identity of potential parents — as well as LGBT children seeking homes. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is expected to introduce companion legislation in June in the Senate.

Some states recently have taken steps to inhibit potential LGBT parents from adopting. Last month, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed legislation that would give primary consideration in adoptive placement to opposite-sex married couples. Additionally, Virginia’s State Board of Social Services recently rejected adding protections against discrimination in adoption cases on the basis of sexual orientation as well as other statuses.

At the news conference, Stark billed the legislation as a means to ensure children living in the foster care system have access to a greater number of adoptive families — including households with single parents or same-sex parents.

“What’s in the child’s best interest is what the bill is trying to promote,” Stark said. “There is no information that shows that children raised by a single parent or gay or lesbian parent households have any more or less problems than all other children.”

According to Stark’s office, the U.S. government spends more than $7 billion each year on a foster care system against potential single and LGBT parents and allows around 25,000 children age out annually. More than 500,000 children are in foster care and 120,000 of them available for adoption.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), an original co-sponsor for the bill, said the Every Child Deserves a Family Act is necessary to eliminate discrimination against potential LGBT parents and to iron out the differences in adoption policy throughout the country.

“Automatically disqualifying LGBT parents from adoption just because of sexual orientation is wrong,” McGovern said. “It makes no sense, especially when so many children are in foster care waiting to be adopted. The current patchwork of unfair state laws and policies … is denying multiple kids to permanent safe and stable homes.”

The issue of LGBT adoption has already emerged as an issue for a Republican who could be considering a run in the 2012 presidential campaign. According to Think Progress, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, who’s widely expected to be eyeing a White House bid, said in a speech Monday before the FAMiLY Leader in Iowa that adoption is a “privilege” to which LGBT people aren’t entitled.

“A lesbian woman walked up to me and said, ‘Why are you denying me my right?’” Santorum said. “I said, ‘Well, because it’s not a right.’ It’s a privilege. It’s a privilege that society recognizes because society sees intrinsic value to that relationship over any other relationship.”

During the news conference, Stark blasted Santorum for his anti-gay comments and said the former senator’s opinion is no longer relevant because he was voted out in 2006.

“Rick who?” Stark said. “There was a guy in Congress years ago named Santorum, but I think he left. He lost, but [has been] following that path ever since. I think that’s nonsense.”

Organizations that work on LGBT advocacy and child welfare — including the Family Equality Council and Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays — praised Stark for introducing the legislation as means to end discrimination and allow more children to find homes.

Linda Spears, vice president of policy and public affairs for the Child Welfare League of America, said passage of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act would help ensure children who are waiting in foster care can find homes.

“We must recognize that statutory frameworks are absolutely essential in order to get this job done,” Spears said. “We cannot have policies in which kids are systemically disadvantaged by state law and by state policy. We cannot have policies that disadvantage and allow children to linger in foster care, those who categorically exclude certain families and put other kids in legal limbo because second parents are not allowed to adopt.”

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, similarly said the legislation is needed to counter what she called “despicable” attempts at the state level aimed at impairing the right to adopt for LGBT people.

“These efforts are divisive, there are despicable, and they push a political agenda at the expense who some of those children who are most vulnerable — the thousands of kids who are living in foster care, [excluding them] from loving, permanent homes,” Chrisler said.

Amy Coleman, a Massachusetts foster care alum (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Amy Coleman, a Massachusetts foster care alum who was adopted at age 16 by lesbian parents, pressed for legislation allowing full adoption rights for LGBT families by recalling the story of her own adoption.

“My moms have been loving, wonderful parents and will continue to be loving, wonderful parents,” Coleman said. “I just felt it was important to come down and share that so that other foster kids know that there are homes out there for them that might not be traditional, but are definitely wanting to take them in, so they don’t have to spend their rest of their time in foster care wondering if there is someone who can, or will, adopt them.”

Moving the legislation will be challenging in the Republican-controlled House, where the bill will likely be assigned to the House Ways & Means Committee. The office of the committee chair, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), didn’t respond on short notice to the Blade’s request to comment on the measure.

Stark said he hasn’t spoken with Camp about the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, but added the adoption issue could come before the House Ways & Means Committee in some capacity.

“I suppose that we’ll have a hearing on this at some point — one way or the other,” Stark said. “The press will require it or the Republicans will in opposition to it. The hearings may not be favorable, but there may very well be hearings on it.”

As of Tuesday, the legislation had no Republican co-sponsors, although Stark suggested that the bill may gain GOP support because he’s spoken to a Republican lawmaker who has indicated interest. Stark didn’t identify the U.S. House member.

The list of original co-sponsors for the legislation notably lacks the names of Democratic lawmakers who usually sign on to pro-LGBT legislation — including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as well as gay Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.).

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said the Democratic leader will sign on as co-sponsor.

Harry Gural, a Frank spokesperson, said his boss wasn’t asked to support the Every Child Deserves a Family Act.

“Congressman Frank considers co-sponsoring a bill when he is asked by the member introducing the bill, when one of that member’s staff makes a request via our staff, or when he gets a request from a constituent,” Gural said. “In this case, none of those took place.”

Jessica Kershaw, a Cicilline spokesperson, said the legislation is on her boss’ radar and he’s reviewing it.

Despite the lack of outright support from the White House, one LGBT rights organization maintained the Obama administration is already working to address adoption discrimination through administrative means.

Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of communications, said the Department of Health & Human Services is “doing a substantial amount of work” as part of HRC’s “All Children All Families” initiative, an agency by agency approach to preventing LGBT discrimination in adoption cases, which aims for the same results as Stark’s legislation.

“At the same time, HRC is working with the HHS to provide greater incentives to states, tribes and territories which receive federal funds to establish more inclusive practices,” Sainz said. “The Informational Memorandum on LGBT youth and families which went out two weeks ago, and was largely a result of our advocacy, is a good example of that ongoing work.”

Sainz was referring to an April 6 memo from HHS encouraging child welfare agencies to serve better the needs of LGBT youth in the foster care system. The memo states agencies should avail themselves of federal funds for training staff on serving LGBT children and called LGBT potential parents an untapped resource for providing homes for LGBT youth.

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Texas

Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott signs anti-Trans youth sports bill

“Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids & adults- the emails to the Governor to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law”

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Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott (Blade file screenshot)

AUSTIN – Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Monday H.B. 25, an anti-Transgender youth sports bill banning Trans K-12 student-athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity. 

H.B. 25 is the 9th statewide bill signed into law this year banning transgender youth from participating in school sports and the 10th in the country. This bill also 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.

“We are devastated at the passage of this bill. Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids and adults, families and advocates, and the many emails and calls our community placed to the Governor’s office to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law,” Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, said.

“Most immediately, our focus is our community and integrating concepts of healing justice to provide advocates who have already been harmed by this bill with spaces to refill their cup and unpack the acute trauma caused by these legislative sessions. Our organizations will also begin to shift focus to electing pro-equality lawmakers who understand our issues and prioritize representing the vast majority of Texans who firmly believe that discrimination against trans and LGB+ people is wrong,” he added.

Earlier this month, the Texas state government was criticized for removing web pages with resources for LGBTQ youth, including information about The Trevor Project’s crisis services. The Trevor Project the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people.

“Transgender and nonbinary youth are already at higher risk for poor mental health and suicide because of bullying, discrimination, and rejection. This misguided legislation will only make matters worse,” Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

To every trans Texan who may be feeling hurt and attacked by this legislation and months of ugly political debate — please know that you are valid, and you are deserving of equal opportunity, dignity and respect. The Trevor Project is here for you 24/7 if you ever need support, and we will continue fighting alongside a broad coalition of advocates to challenge this law,” Paley said.

********************

Additional resources:

Research consistently demonstrates that transgender and nonbinary youth face unique mental health challenges and an elevated risk for bullying and suicide risk compared to their peers.  

  • 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. 94% of LGBTQ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health. 
  • A newly published research brief on “Bullying and Suicide Risk among LGBTQ Youth,” found that 61% of transgender and nonbinary (TGNB) students reported being bullied either in-person or electronically in the past year, compared to 45% of cisgender LGBQ students. TGNB students who were bullied in the past year reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not. And TGNB students who said their school was LGBTQ-affirming reported significantly lower rates of being bullied (55%) compared to those in schools that weren’t LGBTQ-affirming (65%).
  • A 2020 peer-reviewed study found that transgender and nonbinary youth who report experiencing discrimination based on their gender identity had more than double the odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not experience discrimination based on their gender identity.
  • Trevor’s research has also found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (68%) had never participated in sports for a school or community league or club — 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.

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National

Ohio high school cancels play with Gay character after Pastor complains

The School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month until the play was canceled

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Hillsboro High School (Screenshot via Cincinnati ABC affiliate WCPO-TV)

HILLSBORO, Oh. — A Southwest Ohio high school’s play was abruptly canceled after Jeff Lyle, a local pastor from Good News Gathering, complained of a gay character. 

Hillsboro High School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month, until students learned the play would be canceled last week, reports Cincinnati’s ABC affiliate WCPO

The story follows a high school senior as she learns about her late sister’s life. It is implied throughout the play that her sister is gay, according to the news station.

The play’s cancellation comes a week after Lyle, a long-time voice of the anti-LGBTQ+ religious-right in Ohio, and a group of parents confronted the production’s directors at a meeting, according to Cincinnati CBS affiliate Local 12. Lyle denies pressuring school officials, but tells WCPO he supports the decision.

“From a Biblical worldview this play is inappropriate for a number of reasons, e.g. sexual innuendo, implied sexual activity between unmarried persons, repeated use of foul language including taking the Lord’s name in vain,” Lyle said. 

Some families say they believe Lyle did influence the school’s decision. 

“I think that’s wrong,” Jon Polstra, a father of one of the actors, told WCPO. “All they would have had to do if they objected to something in the play was not go to the play.”

In a statement to Local 12, Hillsboro City Schools Superintendent Tim Davis said the play was canceled because it “was not appropriate for our K-12 audience.”

The Lexington Herald Leader reports that the school planned to perform a version intended for audiences as young as 11 years old. 

Students were “devastated” and “blindsided” by the news, according to WCPO. 

“It felt like we had just been told, ‘Screw off and your lives don’t matter,'” Christopher Cronan, a Hillsboro High student, said. “I am openly bisexual in that school and I have faced a lot of homophobia there, but I never expected them to cancel a play for a fictional character.”

Cronan’s father, Ryan, also voiced his frustration. 

“They want to say the town is just not ready, but how are you not ready? It’s 2021,” Ryan Cronan said.

Students have started a GoFundMe in hopes of putting on the production at a community theater in 2022.

“If we do raise enough money, I am going to be genuinely happy for a very long time, because that means people do care,” Cronan told WCPO.

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Utah

VIDEO: Utah deal promoted as national model for LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights

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(Screen capture via YouTube)

A new video from the premier LGBTQ group in Utah, challenging the idea LGBTQ rights must be at odds with religious liberty, promotes an agreement reached in the state as a potential model to achieve a long sought-after update to civil rights law at the federal level.

The video, published Friday by Equality Utah, focuses on a 2015 agreement in Utah between the supporters of LGBTQ rights and the Mormon Church to enact a compromise acceptable to both sides. The agreement by those two sides led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says in the video dialogue is key to achieving meaningful success, whether its among the people of Utah, a state legislature or lawmakers in Congress.

“When you are working with LGBT rights in a state like Utah, and you want to advance legal equality, you can’t do it without working with Republicans, with conservative, with people of faith,” Williams says.

Williams, speaking with the Washington Blade over a Zoom call, said the main audience for the video is people on “the center right and the center left” willing to listen to other side when it comes to LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.

“People that have the courage to reach out to each other, and sit down across from each other and say, ‘Hey look, let’s hammer this out,” Williams said. “That’s who my audience is.”

Not only did Utah enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but the state under a Republican governor administratively banned widely discredited conversion therapy for youth. When lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban transgender youth from competing in school sports, the proposal was scuttled when Gov. Spencer Cox (whom Williams called a “super Mormon”) said he’d veto it after it came to his desk.

Marina Gomberg, a former board for Equality Utah, is another voice in the video seeking dispel the narrative religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are in conflict.

“in order to protect LGBTQ people, we don have to deny religious liberty, and in order to provide protections for religious liberties, we don’t have to deny LGBTQ people,” Gomberg says. “The idea that we do is a fallacy that Utah has dismantled.”

In July, new polling demonstrated the surprisingly the Utah, despite being a conservative state, has the second highest percentage of state population in support for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The data Public Religion Research Institute from 77 percent of Utah residents support LGBTQ people, which is just behind New Hampshire at 81 percent.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the pro-LGBTQ American Unity Fund, said the Utah agreement demonstrates the possibility of reaching an agreement at the federal level once “second order” issues are put into perspective.

“The first order question has to be how are we winning the culture,” Deaton said. “Do people even want to pass the bill? And if they do, you then figure out the details.”

The American Unity Fund has helped promote as a path forward for LGBTQ non-discrimination at the federal level the Fairness for For All Act, legislation seeking to reach a middle ground on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. Polling earlier this year found 57 percent of the American public back a bipartisan solution in Congress to advance LGBTQ civil rights.

Supporters of the Equality Act, the more established vehicle for LGBTQ rights before Congress, say the Fairness for For All Act would give too many carve-out for LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. The Equality Act, however, is all but dead in Congress and has shown no movement in the U.S. Senate.

Skeptics of the Utah law would point out the law doesn’t address public accommodations, one of the more challenging aspects in the fight for LGBTQ rights and one or remaining gaps in civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a result, it’s perfectly legal in Utah for a business owner to discriminate against LGBTQ coming as patrons.

Williams, however, shrugged off the idea the lack of public accommodations protections in Utah make the agreement in the state makes it any less of a model, making the case the spirit behind the deal is what matters.

“I think copying and pasting Utah’s law doesn’t work for lots of reasons,” Wililams said. “What’s most important is a model of collaboration because when you are sitting around the table with each other — Democrats and Republicans, LGBTQ people and people of faith — that’s when the transformation happens. That is when the mutual respect is really forged.”

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