News Notes: Beyond the Carolinas
DADT certified for repeal
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen notified Congress July 22 that the military is ready to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the discriminatory two-decade old policy that bars lesbian, gay and bisexual people from serving openly in the military.
Under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal Act passed by Congress in December 2010, Obama, Panetta and Mullen were required to certify that the plan to repeal the policy is “consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”
The certification started a 60-day transition period before the policy finally becomes history.
DOMA repeal hearing held
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On July 20, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held the first-ever hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Committee members heard from several supporters of the repeal measure, including people who have been harmed because of the discriminatory law.
The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced on March 16, 2011 by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) following the Department of Justice’s historic decision to stop defending DOMA in court because it is unconstitutional. If passed, the bill — which has 27 co-sponsors — would ensure that the federal government recognizes every marriage that a state performs, including marriages of same-sex couples.
Maya Rupert, Federal Policy Director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said. “Today’s hearing exposed the severe burdens that this despicable law imposes on thousands of loving families across the country. Congress needs to pass the Respect for Marriage Act to end this shameful chapter in our nation’s history. DOMA harms families, stigmatizes our relationships as unworthy, and perpetuates a climate of hostility for all LGBT people, and it is long past time to repeal it.”
School district sued for harassment
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — The National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Faegre & Benson, LLP, filed a federal lawsuit July 21 challenging the pervasive anti-gay harassment in schools within the Anoka-Hennepin School District as well as the district’s “gag policy” that prevents teachers from discussing issues related to LGBT people.
The agencies filed the suit on behalf of five students who have faced severe anti-LGBT bullying and harassment while attending school in the district. It charges that the district’s gag policy perpetuated the harassment suffered by these students and others. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota after the school district failed to address the persistent abuse or repeal its discriminatory policy.
“There is something seriously wrong in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, and district officials know it,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “In school after school, kids who are perceived as gay are harassed mercilessly until they drop out, melt down, or lash back. This epidemic of harassment — unlike anything we’ve seen in neighboring districts — is plainly fueled by the district’s shameful and illegal policy singling out LGBT people and LGBT people alone for total exclusion from acknowledgement within the classroom.”
Attack victim sues Sizzler
NEW YORK, N.Y. — Lambda Legal filed a discrimination lawsuit July 28 in Queens County Supreme Court against the Sizzler Restaurant in Forest Hills, Queens on behalf of Liza Friedlander, who was attacked while dining with friends. On September 18, 2010, Friedlander and two friends went to a Sizzler restaurant in Forest Hills for the breakfast buffet. After paying, Friedlander served herself from the buffet and while walking back to her table, a Sizzler manager aggressively approached her. In front of other restaurant patrons, he began yelling at Friedlander, accusing her of not paying. He violently shoved her in the chest, causing her to fall backward, and kicked her in the legs while yelling for her to get out of the establishment and calling her a “fucking dyke.”
The harrowing scene escalated when patrons began terrorizing Friedlander, screaming homophobic and hate-filled epithets. One male diner called her a “he-she freak” and demanded that she leave the restaurant. Another man threatened to take her outside and sexually assault her, shouting that he would show her “what a dick is.” Finally, after police arrived, a battered Friedlander was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital.
U.N. commish salutes watershed case
GENEVA, Switzerland — Navi Pillay, the world’s highest ranking human rights official, paid tribute to the 1994 case taken by a Tasmanian gay activist to the United Nations that led to the state’s laws against homosexuality being overturned and turned the global tide toward LGBT equality. U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Pillay released a video July 28 looking back at the case as part of a new push from her office to highlight continued discrimination against LGBT people around the world.
In the video Pillay says the UN’s decision in 1994 to uphold Nick Toonen’s case and condemn Tasmania’s former anti-gay laws “reverberated around the world” because it was the first time the U.N. acknowledged that the right to be free from discrimination applies to everyone regardless of sexual orientation.
“The Toonen case was a watershed with wide-ranging implications for the human rights of millions of people,” Pillay said. Since 1994, more than 30 countries have taken steps to abolish laws against homosexuality.
“Some have enacted new laws providing greater protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. And in many parts of the world we have witnessed a remarkable shift in public attitudes in favour of greater acceptance of gay and lesbian people.”
Nick Toonen said he was proud to have been involved in such an important moment in the advancement of human rights.
“It’s humbling that so many people around the world have benefitted from the decision in my case,” Toonen said. “The obvious message from the case was that gay rights are human rights, but equally important was the message that everyday people like me can take effective action to protect human rights.”