LGBT refugee center established; Education Dept. affirms GSA rights

News Notes: Beyond the Carolinas

LGBT refugee resource center

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) announced June 15 the creation of a first-ever resource center to support the resettlement of LGBT refugees. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), a division of ACF, awarded a $250,000 grant to the Heartland Alliance of Chicago to create this training and technical assistance center.

The focus of this initiative will be to provide: Resource and capacity development in key resettlement locations; Sensitivity training to network staff, including overview of key issues regarding newly arriving LGBT refugees; Technical assistance in service delivery; and, Development of best practices and orientation materials for refugee service providers across the country.

“As many of these refugees left their homelands specifically because of persecution related to their LGBT status, it is particularly incumbent on us to provide a safe and welcoming environment,” said ACF Acting Assistant Secretary David A. Hansell.

Education Dept. affirms GSA rights

WASHINGTON D.C. — On June 14, the U.S. Department of Education released a guidance letter to school districts across the country making clear that gay-straight alliances must be allowed to form on an equal basis with other student groups. The letter from Education Secretary Arne Duncan reminded schools that the Equal Access Act “requires public secondary schools to treat all student-initiated groups equally, regardless of the religious, political, philosophical, or other subject matters discussed at their meetings. Its protections apply to groups that address issues relating to LGBT students and matters involving sexual orientation and gender identity, just as they apply to religious and other student groups.”

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Suit filed against anti-gay law

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A group of local elected officials, individuals and LGBT rights organizations filed a lawsuit June 13 in Davidson County Chancery Court challenging the state’s recent passage of House Bill 600, which prohibits local municipalities and counties, including local school districts, from enacting local laws or school policies that protect gay and transgender people against discrimination.

The bill was passed earlier this year, just weeks after Nashville added sexual orientation and gender identity to an existing local anti-discrimination law. The new law also prohibits localities from protecting any other group that is not already protected under state law, which would include veterans and people with disabilities, among others.

Boy’s rape conviction overturned

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In a unanimous June 9 ruling, the Ohio Supreme Court overturned the criminal conviction of a 12-year-old boy under the state’s statutory rape law for engaging in intimate conduct with an 11-year-old male friend. The Ohio law categorically prohibits any sexual conduct with a person under the age of 13, without exception for conduct between two persons under that threshold. The prosecutor and trial court applied that law to charge one of the two boys with statutory rape — a first degree felony.

An amicus brief file by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Juvenile Defender Center and the Juvenile Law Center in August of 2010 argued that it was unconstitutional to apply the Ohio law to a child under 13 — a member of the very class the law was designed to protect. The brief argued that giving prosecutors discretion to bring such charges against either participant was unfair and could be used to target youth who are perceived as gay.

The brief also argued that the consequences of a conviction as a sex offender for a child are severely disproportionate, including the fact that the conviction can never be expunged from the child’s juvenile record and that the child would have to register as a sex offender if he moved to some other states. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed that the law was unconstitutional as applied to any child under 13.

Anti-gay murders ongoing

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — In the last year and a half, at least 18 gay or transgender people in Puerto Rico have been killed, three of them in just one week earlier this month. Although advocates believe many of these victims’ lives were taken because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, authorities have not been treating the cases as hate crimes.

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The most recent victim, Karlota Gomez, was shot to death June 14 by someone driving by her on the street. A suspect has been arrested. In late April, another transgender woman, Francheska Gonzalez, was severely beaten by a man while leaving a gas station. Late last year, two young transgender women were shot in the head and apparently run over by a car in the southern city of Juana Diaz.

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of the LGBT advocacy group Puerto Rico for Everyone and communications manager for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, observed, “It seems they have declared open hunting season against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual people.”

U.N. council passes historic resolution

GENEVA, Switzerland — In a groundbreaking achievement for upholding the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), on June 17 the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution on human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The resolution, presented by South Africa along with Brazil and 39 additional co-sponsors from all regions of the world, was passed by a vote of 23 in favor, 19 against, and 3 abstentions.

The resolution is the first U.N. resolution ever to bring specific focus to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and follows a joint statement on these issues delivered at the March session of the council.

The resolution requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a study on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and calls for a panel discussion to be held at the Human Rights Council to discuss the findings of the study in a constructive and transparent manner, and to consider appropriate follow-up.

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Posted by David Stout

David Stout is the associate editor of QNotes. He can be reached at editor2@goqnotes.com.