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Dept. of Education to recognize same-sex parents

Change will likely result in less aid for same-sex households

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Arne Duncan, Department of Education, Washington Blade, gay news
Arne Duncan, Department of Education, Washington Blade, gay news

The Department of Education under Arne Duncan will begin recognizing a student’s same-sex partners on FAFSA. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Department of Education will begin recognizing a student’s same-sex parents on applications for federal financial aid for the purposes of income information, although in most circumstances the change will likely result in these families being eligible for less assistance.

In an announcement on Monday, the department announced it will begin collecting income information from a dependent student’s legal parents regardless of their marital status or gender as long as those parents live together. The change begins with the 2014-2015 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

The precise changes are two-fold. First, the application will offer an option for students to describe their parents’ marital status as “unmarried and both parents living together.” Second, where appropriate, the new FAFSA form will use terms like “Parent 1 (father/mother/stepparent)” and “Parent 2 (father/mother/stepparent)” instead of gender-specific terms like “mother” or “father.”

In a conference call with reporters, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the change will enable students to apply for aid “in a way that incorporates their unique family dynamic.”

“These changes will allow us to calculate eligibility based on what a student’s whole family is able to contribute and ensure that limited taxpayer dollars are better targeted toward those students who have the most need,” Duncan said. “And very importantly, these changes allow us to provide an inclusive form that reflects the great diversity of American families.”

The income information provided on the FAFSA is used to calculate a student’s expected family contribution, or EFC. That number decides a student’s eligibility for federal need-based student aid, such as grants and students loans, in addition to eligibility for many state, institutional and private aid programs.

Prior to this change, FAFSA was constructed to collect information about a student’s parents only if they’re married. Consequently, it has excluded income and other information from some students’ legal parents when those parents are unmarried, the same gender and the same gender and legally married but not recognized as such under the Defense of Marriage Act.

According to the Department of Education, collecting of information from both of a dependent student’s parents is statutorily supported in the Higher Education Act. Additionally, the change won’t impact the longstanding statutorily required provision of considering information — if a student’s parents are divorced — on only the parent that the student has lived with for the greater portion of one year before completing the FAFSA.

While the change is intended to be more inclusive of LGBT families, the Department of Education maintains it’ll result in most situations with these students being eligible for less assistance.

In most instances, the amount of need-based federal student aid these students are eligible for will decrease because of the additional income and other resources used in the calculation of the student’s EFC. Still, in a small number of instances, the student would be eligible for more aid because the offset for an additional person in the household, a factor in calculating the EFC, will exceed the income of the second parent.

Duncan maintained the change would result in “fairer treatment of all families,” but acknowledged that it will likely result in same-sex households having to pay more for a student’s education.

“For the vast majority of applicants, these changes will absolutely have no impact,” Duncan said. “It’s important to note, though, that collecting information from both parents and considering the income of the whole family will likely result in less need-based federal student aid for these applicants who are affected because of the recognition of the complete financial resources of the family.”

Duncan also said the change will also affect both students with opposite-sex parents if those parents are unmarried, but living together.

“We know college is very, very expensive for many families, but to the extent that they are able, it’s important that both of the student’s legal parents help pay for the [education] of their child,” Duncan said.

Despite questions about whether these changes would result in cost savings for same-sex households, LGBT groups like the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network praised the move to include same-sex households in FAFSA.

“GLSEN has long worked to ensure that sexual orientation and gender identity are not used to discriminate against students in our nation’s K-12 schools, whether that student identifies as LGBT, has LGBT friends, or comes from an LGBT family,” said GLSEN Director of Public Policy Shawn Gaylord. “We’re thrilled by the Department of Education’s decision to allow students filling out the FAFSA to accurately describe the makeup of their family, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Praise also came from the Family Equality Council, which shared credit for making the change as part of a group that included the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals and the National Center for Transgender Equality

“Students seeking financial aid want to know that the federal government will recognize their families and not treat them differently based on their parents’ sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status,” said Emily Hecht-McGowan, the Family Equality Council’s director of public policy. “Federal forms that are inclusive of all families are important tools to help LGBT parents ensure their children receive the legal and financial protections they need and the opportunities in life that they deserve.”

According to the Department of Education, it will publish these changes this week in the Federal Register for public comment as part of the draft 2014-2015 FAFSA.

The changes come as the U.S. Supreme Court has litigation before it challenging the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Asked if the a ruling against DOMA would prompt further changes to FAFSA, Jane Glickman, a Department of Education spokesperson, replied, “We won’t know the answer to that until the Court has issued its decision and we have reviewed that decision.”

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Gary Lindsay

    April 30, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    We should sue DoE to have these rules overturned as a violation of DOMA.

    They don't want to give us the M word legally for our relationships, they don't want to give use the protections and advantages of marriage, then the Government can't expect to demand we pony up to the obligations.

    • James Lavoy

      April 30, 2013 at 9:39 pm

      Agreed. This is nonsense. The President's administration isnt willing to issue executive order protections for things that benefit gay couples because he wants it done legislatively. Its hypocrisy to make such changes only when it adversely impacts students.

      Gross.

  2. Ronald Bartlett

    May 10, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    Why limit this to 2 parents? Why only humans? During my childhood, my dog was the closest thing I had to a caring companion. Ridiculous? On par with how Obama is trying to reshape American values.

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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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