Archive for August, 2010

Equality Pennsylvania and PennDOT Reach Agreement

August 25, 2010

Following several months of discussion, Equality Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) recently announced agreement on a change in gender marker policy. “Gender markers” refer to those ways in which individuals present themselves mostly on official documentation. For example, on a driver’s license your “gender marker” would refer to your name and photograph.

Under previous policy, transgender individuals looking to be represented on their driver’s license as their presenting gender were forced to prove that sexual reassignment surgery had occurred. With the newly adopted policy, transgender citizens of Pennsylvania will be permitted to change the designated gender on their driver’s license when they are living full-time in their new gender and it can be verified by a licensed medical or psychological caregiver.

“I want to applaud the Department of Transportation for the careful and intelligent way they have handled this discussion,” said Equality Pennsylvania Executive Director, Ted Martin. “From the very beginning, they recognized what the American Psychological Association, over 25 other states and the U. S. Department of State, has been realizing all along; that this just makes sense and is the right thing to do. This simple and cost-free change in policy will make lives better and that’s really the most important point in all this.”

“First, I want to commend Equality Pennsylvania for their remarkable dedication to seeing this issue to a successful conclusion. They have been a great ally to the transgender community and I am grateful for their energy and support,” explained Jeanine Ruhsam, president of TransCentral PA.

“It is vitally important that transgender Pennsylvanians have driver’s licenses that accurately reflect their lived gender. Having one that misrepresents your lived gender “outs” transgender people in many situations where they need to show their license—if stopped by police, in bars and restaurants, and while filling out forms for employers. This violates their privacy, puts them at risk for discrimination, and even opens them to violence,” Ruhsam said.

Throughout the discussion, Equality Pennsylvania partnered with TransCentralPA, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Gay and Lesbian Taskforce for advice and support, Mazzoni Center, Philadelphia. “I am thrilled to learn of this change in policy at PennDOT,” said Amara S. Chaudhry, Esq., who initiated the dialogue in 2009 as legal director at Equality Pennsylvania with a series of letters to the agency, co-authored with legal intern Natalie Hrubos. Chaudhry, currently legal director at Mazzoni Center, said “We are deeply grateful to Ted Martin for his dedication and persistence on this, and to PennDOT for their willingness to develop a policy that is more inclusive of all Pennsylvanians.”

“Equality Pennsylvania is committed to making sure that real policy change benefiting the entire lgbt community happens regularly, so this victory – so long in coming – is an especially satisfying one,” said board president, Brian Sims. “These victories change people’s lives, and that’s really what our advocacy role is all about.”


PA Sen. Casey Intros Federal Anti-bullying Bill

August 5, 2010

PA Sen. Robert Casey Introduces Federal Anti-bullying Bill with 10 Co-sponsors

GLSEN Lauds Introduction of Safe Schools Improvement Act in Senate

Bill Would Require Enumerated Anti-Bullying Policies in America’s Public Schools

GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, praises today’s introduction of the Safe Schools Improvement Act, a federal anti-bullying bill that includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, in the Senate by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and 10 cosponsors.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act, which is endorsed by the nearly 70 members of the GLSEN-led National Safe Schools Partnership, will require comprehensive anti-bullying policies in our nation’s public schools. The bill was introduced in the House last year by Rep. Linda Sánchez and has 119 bipartisan cosponsors.

“GLSEN would like to thank Senator Casey for introducing this potentially lifesaving bill in the Senate,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. “Our nation has failed to address the pervasive problem of bullying and harassment in schools for far too long. Countless youth are denied access to an education every day because they do not feel safe in school. Passing the Safe Schools Improvement Act would go a long way toward laying the necessary foundation of support lacking in many American schools.”

Nearly two-thirds of middle and high school students (65%) said they had been bullied in school in the past year, according to From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, a 2005 report from GLSEN and Harris Interactive that surveyed more than 3,000 students.

LGBT students face even higher levels of victimization. Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students (86.4%) said they had been harassed in the past year, according to GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey of more than 6,000 LGBT students. Additionally, 60.8% said they felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.

Both studies, however, found that students at schools with a comprehensive anti-bullying policy similar to the one required by the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which includes enumerated characteristics of students most often targeted, reported harassment at a significantly reduced rate.

“Bullying and harassment affect millions of students every year. While we do have federal laws to provide support to promote school safety, there is nothing currently in place to comprehensively and expressly address issues of bullying or harassment,” said Senator Casey. “I am pleased to introduce the Safe Schools Improvement Act to help ensure that every child receives a quality education that builds self-confidence. This bill is a crucial step towards ensuring that no child is so afraid to go to school that he or she stays home for fear of bullying.”

“Bullying is a national public health crisis that demands a national solution,” said mother Sirdeaner Walker, whose 11-year-old son Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover took his life in Springfield, Mass., last year after enduring constant bullying at school. “As a mother who knows the painful consequences of inaction, I urge Congress to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act and give schools the tools they need to make their hallways and classrooms safer for all students.”

Members of the National Safe Schools Partnership, which in 2007 published federal policy recommendations in Bridging the Gap in Federal Law: Promoting Safe Schools and Improved Student Achievement by Preventing Bullying and Harassment in Our Schools, include GLSEN, the American Association of School Administrators, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the National Association of School Psychologists, among the nearly 70 national education, health, religious, civil rights, youth development and other organizations.

About the National Safe Schools Partnership

The National Safe Schools Partnership, led by GLSEN, is an informal coalition of leading national education, health, civil rights, law enforcement, youth development and other organizations committed to ensuring that America’s schools are safe for all children. To that end, members of the Partnership have joined together in support of federal policy recommendations based on long-standing research and experience.

CA Court Rules on Prop 8; Judy Shepard Reacts

August 4, 2010

Judy Shepard: Prop 8 Verdict
‘Moves America Closer to Its Ideals’
Says Victory for Plaintiffs ‘Proves the Power of Personal Stories’

DENVER, Colo. — A sweeping federal court verdict invalidating California’s ban on same-sex marriages “moves America closer to its ideals of respecting individual freedom and treating all citizens equally under the law,” Matthew Shepard Foundation board president Judy Shepard said Wednesday.

Shepard, the mother of 1998 Wyoming anti-gay hate crime victim Matthew Shepard, serves on the advisory board of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which filed the legal challenge to the ban in May on behalf of citizens denied marriages by the 2008 law narrowly approved by voters.

“These plaintiffs are law-abiding, family-oriented, tax-paying citizens whose privacy was invaded, and whose dignity was affronted, by a misguided and unconstitutional law,” Shepard continued.

“Their victory at trial shows that our courts still play a vital role in safeguarding the rights of minorities from majorities who misunderstand them. But more importantly, it proves the power of personal stories. Equal marriage rights are ultimately about people’s families, and during the trial, their personal need for legal recognition of their relationships came through loud and clear,” she added.

“After Matt came out to me, he once asked me if I thought gay couples would ever be allowed to get married,” Shepard recalled. “I told him I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime, but it probably would in his. It’s so sad, and ironic, that it turned out the other way. But this case warms my heart, to think that his dream is still coming true.”

Judy Shepard and her husband Dennis established the Matthew Shepard Foundation in 1998 after their son’s murder in Laramie, Wyoming, to honor him in a manner appropriate to his dreams, beliefs and aspirations. The Foundation seeks to “Replace Hate with Understanding, Compassion and Acceptance” through its educational, outreach and advocacy programs and by continuing to tell Matthew’s story.

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Will Lancaster County Keep Human Relations Commission? Harrisburg Next?

August 2, 2010

Will Harrisburg City Be Next to Drop Commission?
By Frank Pizzoli

In a story taking on regional proportions, Lancaster County Commissioners Craig Lehman and Scott Martin last week heard public testimony on that county’s plan to disband the Lancaster County Human Relations Commission.

Will Harrisburg City be the next local governmental entity to drop its human relations commission?

Central Voice learned of a recommendation by Management Partners, Inc., that the beleaguered capital city eliminate its Human Resources Commission and forward all complaints to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. The recommendation is on page 244 of a 257-page document prepared last April by Management Partners. The report is thought to be “in play” as Harrisburg leaders focus on solutions to the city’s financial woes.

Lancaster County would also ship out complaints to the state agency. Four Pennsylvania counties operate their own human relations commissions, Allegheny, Erie, Philadelphia and Lancaster. The state is required to have a human relations commission, but local governments are not.

About 300 people filled a room in the county administration building for the Lancaster hearings. By the time the session ended at 10:20 p.m., 12 people had lined up to testify. Comments fell into three categories: (1) Is the county progressive enough to keep the commission? (2) Is the county-level service duplicative of an existing state function? (3) Progressive viewpoints and duplicity aside, is the department simply unaffordable in the county’s budget?

Commission director Robert C. Rush has told county commissioners that the entity could cut its proposed spending for next year from $474,680 to $373,468. The county budget is about $150,000 million.

The county’s possible dropping of its human relations functions does not affect Lancaster City which operates its own such department.

”It was wonderful to see the overwhelming support for the Lancaster County Human Relations Commission, especially the strong support from business and religious leaders. I thought the testimony from Kim Smith of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry was particularly strong. Her experience as a lawyer made clear the advantages and efficiencies of having a local commission. I’m hopeful that Commissioners Stuckey and Martin were listening,” said Mark Stoner, Board Chair of Lancaster City’s Human Relations Commission.

A couple of hours before public hearing began about 250 people rallied in Binns Park, near the administration building. Those rallying voiced support for the commission with signs like “Don’t rush to racism,” “Don’t turn back the clock,” “We need local protection” and “I won’t stand quietly by.”

“This is about defending our local access to basic human rights,” said Lancaster city resident Adanjesus Marin, representing the Lancaster Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Organizing Committee. “If they take this away from us, we would be the only county in the history of Pennsylvania to move backwards in the arena of human rights.”