Vet group sues for gay families

BOSTON, Mass. — Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) has filed a landmark federal lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, on behalf of current and former service members seeking equal recognition, benefits and family support for equal sacrifice and service in the U.S. Armed Forces. The plaintiffs, each legally married, want the armed services to recognize their families and seek the same family support and benefits for their same-sex spouses that the services and Department of Veterans Affairs provide to opposite-sex spouses.

The case challenges the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as provisions in Title 10, Title 32, and Title 38 of U.S. Code, which preclude the military from providing same-sex married couples with the same benefits and family support as their straight, married peers.

“This case is about one thing, plain and simple. It’s about justice for gay and lesbian service members and their families in our armed forces rendering the same military service, making the same sacrifices, and taking the same risks to keep our nation secure at home and abroad,” said Army Veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis. “These couples are in long-term, committed, and legally recognized marriages, and the military should not be forced to turn its back on them because the federal government refuses to recognize their families.”

Study finds wide trans support

WASHINGTON, D.C. — According to a new survey, overwhelming majorities of Americans across the political and religious spectrum believe that transgender people should have the same general rights and legal protections as other people. The August and September Religion and Politics Tracking Surveys from the Public Religion Research Institute constitute one of the first independent studies of attitudes on transgender issues and Americans’ knowledge of transgender identity.

Approximately 9-in-10 Americans — including strong majorities of all religious and partisan groups — agree that transgender people deserve the same rights and protections as other Americans. Seventy-four percent of respondents also favor the recent expansion of hate crimes legislation to protect transgender people, while roughly two-thirds report being well informed about transgender people and issues, and generally understand what the term “transgender” means.

“Three out of four Americans say Congress should pass employment non-discrimination laws that protect transgender people,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “This strong support is also broad, persisting across party lines and the religious spectrum.”

Businesses join fight against DOMA

BOSTON, Mass. — Seventy businesses and organizations have signed onto a federal court brief highlighting the harms to American companies caused by the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The amicus curiae brief — signed by a wide diversity of corporations from tech giants Microsoft and Google to consumer brands Nike and Starbucks — supports the Gill v. OPM case challenging the denial of federal rights and benefits to lawfully married gay and lesbian couples brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), as well as the consolidated case brought by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts challenging DOMA’s discrimination against its own citizens.

“Not only does DOMA hurt families, now we have a clear picture of how it also harms American business,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “As these cases wind their way through the courts, Congress also has an opportunity to act.” The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to hold hearings on the Respect for Marriage Act — the bill to repeal DOMA — the week this issue of qnotes went to press.

DOMA prevents more than 1,100 federal rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage from being extended to legally married same-sex couples. Fifty-one percent of voters oppose the law while only 34 percent favor it, according to a March 2011 poll by HRC and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

Online effort against school assault

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — Following the on-campus assault of a gay 15-year-old student caught on cell phone video, more than 4,000 people have joined a campaign on calling upon the Union-Scioto School District to pass an anti-bullying policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Bret Thompson launched the effort after the brutal assault, which no one stepped in to stop, resulted in just a three-day suspension for the attacker. “I started this petition on because I know Ohio and this attack does not reflect our values,” he said. “Every child has the right to learn in a safe environment, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The Union-Scioto School District has adopted anti-harassment policies that include sex, race, color, national origin, religion, and disability, but have not specifically moved to protect against harassment or bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The school administrators should be ashamed of their response,” said Thompson. “If they won’t send a message to their student body that this is unacceptable, we’ll just have to send a message to them.” The campaign is also seeking the expulsion of the attacker, while Rebecca Collins, the victim’s mother, told reporters she wants criminal charges pressed against him — including federal hate crime charges.

Chick-fil-A funds anti-gay groups

ATLANTA, Ga. — Earlier this year, Chick-fil-A became embroiled in controversy surrounding its donations to anti-gay groups. Though company President Dan Cathy denied having an “agenda against anyone,” an investigation by the group Equality Matters revealed that Chick-fil-A donated more than $1 million to anti-gay causes between 2003 and 2008. Now, new IRS 990 forms reveal that the company donated nearly $2 million to anti-gay groups in 2009 alone, the most recent year for which public records are available.

The WinShape Foundation is Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm, created by Chick-fil-A founder and chairman S. Truett Cathy in 1984. In 2009 alone, WinShape received $7,814,788 from Chick-fil-A Inc. Of that, WinShape donated $1,733,699 to multiple anti-gay groups: Marriage & Family Legacy Fund, $994,199; Fellowship Of Christian Athletes, $480,000; National Christian Foundation $240,000; Focus On The Family, $12,500; Eagle Forum, $5,000; Exodus International, $1,000; and Family Research Council, $1,000.

Despite the company’s history of giving, Dan Cathy has maintained that Chick-fil-A has “no agenda against anyone,” and that the company would not “champion any political agendas” relating to marriages or families.

U.K. threatens African aid

LONDON, England — A threat from the British government that aid might be cut to African countries that persecute and prosecute LGBT people has met with opposition from some gay leaders in both the U.K. and in the countries targeted by the warning.

British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell said, “Many [Africans] are dependent on aid for basic needs like food, clean water, health care and education. Instead of cutting aid, Britain and other donor countries should divert their aid money from human rights abusing governments and redirect it to grassroots, community-based humanitarian projects that respect human rights and do not discriminate in their service provision.”

A collective statement from African LGBT social justice activists noted, in part, “An effective response to the violations of the rights of LBGTI people has to be more nuanced than the mere imposition of donor sanctions. The history of colonialism and sexuality cannot be overlooked when seeking solutions to this issue. The colonial legacy of the British Empire in the form of laws that criminalize same-sex sex continues to serve as the legal foundation for the persecution of LGBTI people throughout the Commonwealth. In seeking solutions to the multi-faceted violations facing LGBTI people across Africa, old approaches and ways of engaging our continent have to be stopped. New ways of engaging that have the protection of human rights at their core have to recognize the importance of consulting the affected.”

David Stout

David Stout is the associate editor of QNotes. He can be reached at