Antibullying Bill Passes N.Y. State Senate

 – Advocate.com, 6.23.10

The Dignity for All Students Act, which would protect LGBT students from bullying and harassment in schools, passed the New York state senate Tuesday evening after years of effort. Governor David Paterson is expected to sign the bill into law, which would mark the first time gender identity and expression are included in state law.

Senators approved DASA by a bipartisan vote of 58-3 late Tuesday night after some 90 minutes of speeches. All three no votes came from Republicans.

The assembly passed the bill in May for the ninth time since 2002.

According to the Empire State Pride Agenda, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, “The Dignity bill creates tools for school administrators, teachers, parents and students to address bullying and bias-related behavior of all kinds that interfere with student safety and learning. Key provisions include: developing rules to prevent and respond to discriminatory harassment and hate violence; establishing teacher, staff and administrative training guidelines; incorporating discrimination awareness into civility and character education curricula; and required reporting of incidents of bias harassment to the State Education Department.”

DASA marks the first time gender identity and expression would be included in New York state law. The approval arrives two weeks after a state senate committee rejected the Gender Expression Non-discrimination Act,  which would add gender identity and expression to state human rights laws.

State senator Thomas Duane, the chief DASA sponsor in the senate, will hold a press conference Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. to discuss the victory. Tune into the New York state senate channel or watch the video below.

New York state assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, who sponsored DASA in the assembly, said in a news release Tuesday, “The bill’s enactment will be a major victory for the LGBT community. When fully implemented, DASA will afford all public school students an environment free of harassment and discrimination. The law will cover but is not limited to, the broadest categories of students who are the victims of bullying based on actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex.”

New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn, who advocated strongly for DASA, released a statement late Tuesday that recognized the long drive to pass the bill.

“I want to thank the lead sponsors of this bill – Senator Thomas Duane and Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell – for their tireless leadership on this important legislation,” she said. “I applaud Senate Majority Leader John Sampson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for their leadership on this issue in Albany. I also thank the advocates who worked for so many years to reach this point, as well as the thousands of New Yorkers who called, wrote and met with their Senators about this bill, year after year.”

Obama Recognizes Gay Dads

  • By Candace Chellew-Hodge – 6.21.10
  • When President Obama issued his statement this past weekend in recognition of Father’s Day, he mentioned one class of fathers that no other president before him has acknowledged: gay dads.

    Nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by a father and mother, a single father, two fathers, a stepfather, a grandfather, or caring guardian.

    His acknowledgement of the labor of love two men may put into their relationship with their children drew quick reaction from the “pro-family” but anti-gay set. Christian Broadcasting Network White House Correspondent David Brody tsk-tsked the president, warning he’s alienating religious folks:

    First of all, by putting “two fathers” in your proclamation you are really running the risk of alienating networks of pastors and church goers who may buy into the President’s overall but draw the line when it comes to traditional marriage. You put these normally supportive pastors in a tough situation because the fact of the matter is the whole ‘two fathers’ scenario DOES NOT play well in most Churches in America. And that is completely understandable.

    My first reaction to that concern was, “welcome to our world.” The LGBT community has been alienated from most of the world for the majority of history, so pastors and churchgoers who balk at the president’s words can enjoy, just for a moment, our reality. Alienation is something we’re familiar with — kicked out of our families, kicked out of our churches, fired for being who we are, denied housing for being who we are, denied the rights and responsibilities of marriage. You want alienation? Mr. Brody, the line starts behind me.

    Of course, Brody’s reaction is tame compared to Peter LaBarbera over at Americans for Truth about Homosexuality who gives his usual rant about how gay men are promiscuous (because no straight men are, right?).

    But even if two homosexual men keep their disordered relationship “faithful,” homosexual parenting would not be worthy of celebration, LaBarbera said: “It is wrong to force children into a situation where they have two men modeling immoral behavior — condemned by God and all major religions — as the most important role models in their lives.”

    Aside from the “scare quotes” around the word “faithful,” LaBarbera makes no sense here. What “immoral behavior” is he talking about? Does he really believe gay dads have sex in front of their children? Do LaBarbera and his wife do “immoral” things in front of their children? Or, perhaps, LaBarbera believes it’s immoral for kids to see their gay dads go to work every day, take out the trash, and instruct their children to clean their rooms and make their beds. What horrible fathers!

    There is not a shred of proof that gay men are worse fathers than

    straight men. In fact, a recent study, quoted in the Advocate, showed that “gay fathers were more likely to scale back their careers in order to care for their children. Another difference was that gay fathers also saw their self-esteem and relationships with their extended families greatly improve when they had children.” Far from being “immoral” it seems that fatherhood is good for gay men, just as it is for straight men. But, LaBarbera and his “pro-family” cohorts won’t ever let facts get in the way of a good scare tactic.

    Even if President Obama has, by and large, disappointed our community since his election with his foot-dragging on issues like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), it feels good to be acknowledged, even in a boiler-plate proclamation. It feels good to have the leader of your country acknowledge not just your existence, but your humanity — your extreme normalness.

    If that makes the religious right feel alienated, it really shouldn’t. It simply means that we finally have a commander-in-chief who can acknowledge the reality of the American family and see the humanity of everyone, even if politics prevents him from fully enacting a fairer agenda.

    A belated Happy Father’s Day, Mr. President.

Surrogate Pregnancy Goes Global

June 16, 2010
Television Review | ‘Google Baby’

 

 

Way back when, during the final decades of the last century, if a woman had a hard time conceiving, she saved her dollars by the tens of thousands and passed them over to a clinic specializing in assisted reproductive technology.

She might then shoot herself with stimulants and have her eggs retrieved, fertilized and implanted, hoping that science and the gods of modern fertility would conspire to impose their good will. This remains an exhausting method of achieving pregnancy, but the complexity is nothing compared to what takes place in “Google Baby,” a compelling documentary Wednesday on HBO2 that shows us how provincial the standard in-vitro fertilization procedure has become.

The film, produced and directed by the Tel Aviv filmmaker Zippi Brand Frank, examines the ways in which globalization has further complicated and diffused the fertility industry. “Google Baby,” though, is also the chronicle of an idea, one belonging to an Israeli entrepreneur named Doron, who gets into the business of using egg donors in the United States and gestational carriers in India to provide for the childless of the Western world.

Logistically, this involves freezing multiple donor embryos and shipping them to a surrogacy center in Anand, India, packaged in liquid nitrogen. Emotionally, it requires an enormous amount of fortitude on the part of childbearers in a culture where some regard surrogacy as a kind of prostitution.

What could easily be rendered as straight-out horrid exploitation is given an amazingly neutral hand as Ms. Brand Frank deftly avoids the clichés that typically materialize in any journalistic look at atypical reproduction. “Google Baby” — which derives its title from the practice of finding potential egg donors online — gives us no Upper East Side trophy wives choosing surrogacy to avoid the inconvenience of weight gain and relinquishing of gin and tonics. Nor does it show us Ivy League parents insisting on donors with perfect SAT scores and a proven record of Roger Federer-like displays of hand-eye coordination. (The demands of the affluent can seem insane in this universe, extending, as one reproductive endocrinologist once told me, even to shoe size.)

Doron himself was inspired to pursue this particular enterprise by his own experience becoming a parent as a gay man, and he seems moved to help other gay couples have children. The clinic in India is run by a doctor, Nayna Patel, who is insistent that her service not become a baby factory. She requires that clients either be childless or have no more than one child. Dr. Patel, who charges $6,000 for surrogacy, sees the service she provides as sisterly, “one woman helping another.” Offering a cost-benefit analysis to a surrogate, she explains that the prospective mother “cannot have a child which she longs for, which you are going to give, and you cannot have a house.”

“You cannot educate your son beyond school,” she continues. “For that they are going to pay.”

What parents pay for surrogacy outsourced to India is considerably less than the procedure can cost in the United States. Ms. Brand Frank’s camera moves fluidly to show us that the transaction is at once grossly unfair, given the risks to the childbearer, and yet at the same time its own kind of godsend because the money can and does make a difference to poorer women with otherwise limited opportunities. Among the uglier dimensions is the lack of appreciation men have when their wives are childbearers. What is far worse than an extreme capitalist is a bad husband.

Google Baby

HBO2, Wednesday night at 8, Eastern and Pacific times; 7, Central time.

Directed by Zippi Brand Frank; Ms. Frank and Zvi Frank, producers; Uri Ackerman, cinematographer; Tal Rabiner, editor; Itzik Cohen and Gadi Raz, sound design; Karni Postel, composer. For HBO: Geof Bartz, consulting editor; Sara Bernstein, supervising producer; Sheila Nevins, executive producer. Produced by Brandcom Ltd.

Parenting should be a nonissue in gay marriage debate

Supporters of Proposition 8 have made child-rearing a focus of the trial. But no other group is prohibited from marrying because of parental abilities, or lack thereof.

June 16, 2010 – LATimes.com

It wasn’t surprising that the federal trial on Proposition 8 in January confirmed that the same-sex marriage ban is destructive to family life and discriminatory toward a group that has historically been subject to abuse. What did surprise us: Some of the strongest arguments in favor of same-sex marriage were made by those opposing it.

Closing arguments in the case will be heard Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, more than four months after testimony ended. Even so, it’s easy to recall some of the startling moments of the trial. One witness who had been hired to testify that gay men and lesbians wield significant political power — and therefore were not a group that had especially suffered from discrimination — ended up conceding that at least some people voted for Proposition 8 because of prejudice against homosexuals. The witness, Kenneth Miller, a professor at Claremont McKenna College, also had made statements in the past that minorities were vulnerable to harm from ballot initiatives, and that courts should protect them from such harm — an argument that seemed to weaken the case for his side.

Then there was David Blankenhorn, the founder and president of the Institute for American Values, who testified that preserving traditional marriage should take priority over the rights of gays and lesbians — but then offered no proof that same-sex marriage would in any way harm the institution of marriage, and admitted that marriage would be beneficial to families headed by same-sex couples.

The objective of the lawyers arguing for Proposition 8 before Judge Vaughn R. Walker is to show that voters had rational reasons for approving it rather than being motivated by bigotry. And a key reason, one of the lawyers said, is that children fare best when raised by a married couple of opposite genders.

The premise itself is dubious. A longitudinal study published online this month in the journal Pediatrics found that the adolescent children of lesbian couples fare very well. In fact, they “rated significantly higher in social, school/academic and total competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive and externalizing problems” than others their age.

The premise also is irrelevant. Just as we wouldn’t propose taking marriage away from heterosexual couples even though their children might not do as well as those of lesbians, there is nothing reasonable about denying marriage to same-sex couples based on judgments about child-rearing or anything else concerning the perceived quality of their marriages. Despite what Proposition 8 supporters have tried to argue during the trial, marriage is not solely about procreation and raising children; for many couples, that’s not even a factor. And same-sex couples who want children will have them whether or not they have a marriage license.

We’re sorry that Walker has even asked for a discussion of this issue at Wednesday’s session. Specifically, he wants to delve into the question of whether voters were acting rationally if they believed the marriage ban was in the best interests of children, even if their belief wasn’t backed up by facts. Society doesn’t force single parents to marry, even though there’s a general presumption that having two parents would be better for the children. It doesn’t force teenagers, still children themselves, to give up their children to older couples, or forbid people with kooky parenting theories to wed. Only gay and lesbian couples are singled out for this judgment of whether they’re good enough to marry and have children.

Walker refused to allow a video broadcast of Wednesday’s closing arguments after defenders of Proposition 8 opposed allowing the session to be aired. It’s a puzzling decision, especially considering that the judge favored allowing cameras during the trial. But the U.S. Supreme Court rebuked him for that decision, agreeing with Proposition 8 supporters that witnesses who oppose same-sex marriage could face harassment or worse if their testimony were televised. Yet the pro-Proposition 8 witnesses already had made themselves public figures.

Prohibiting cameras in the courtroom makes even less sense for the closing arguments, when there are no witnesses to feel intimidated. In this instance, the theory is that lawyers might play to the cameras instead of to the judge. If they were foolish enough to do so, after investing this much time and passion on both sides, they could only lose ground by alienating the judge. The millions of people who have been watching with intense interest as the story of same-sex marriage unfolds have a legitimate stake in seeing and hearing the arguments that will determine whether gays and lesbians in California are granted the basic right to form families with the same legal status as all other families.

Gay adoption ban coming into play in race for attorney general

Jun. 05, 2010

When voters choose from among five candidates to be Florida’s next attorney general, their decision could have a profound effect on some of the state’s most highly charged issues, from gay adoption to healthcare reform.

Florida’s unique gay adoption ban underscores how the state’s chief legal officer can use the position to advance a personal philosophy while adhering to the duties of the job.

Attorney General Bill McCollum has come under fire recently for advocating the use of an expert witness who has been discredited while defending the state’s ban on gay couples adopting children.

Three Republicans seeking the post — Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, former state healthcare secretary Holly Benson and former Hillsborough prosecutor Pam Bondi — all say they would continue to uphold the adoption ban.

“The best home for any child is a two-parent home with a mother and a father,” Benson said.

But both Democrats, state Sens. Dave Aronberg and Dan Gelber, say Florida has spent enough defending an antiquated law.

“I don’t think as a lawyer I can make a straight-faced argument that the ban is constitutional,” said Gelber of Miami Beach.

The challenge comes from a North Miami man who wanted to adopt two foster children that are living with him and his partner. A Miami judge ruled the law unconstitutional in 2008. The state’s appeal of that ruling is pending.

McCollum is defending the ban on behalf of the Department of Children and Families. He personally pushed to hire psychologist George Rekers as an expert witness. Rekers was found to have gone on a European vacation with a gay escort.

In public appearances, Bondi refused to say if she would take the case to the Supreme Court if the state loses the appeal. In an interview Friday, she clarified her position: “I will continue with General McCollum’s appeal. If [the Supreme Court] can legally hear it, yes, I will appeal.”

The Supreme Court must first agree to hear the case before any candidate can appeal.

At a Tiger Bay forum in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, Bondi said that as attorney general, she would support whatever law is on the books.

At a May 18 event in Miami Lakes, she mentioned two gay friends before saying that the adoption process as a whole needs reform.

`FIRST DUTY’

“I have friends in Tampa who are in law enforcement who have adopted from overseas, who are in a loving, committed same-sex relationship,” Bondi said.

Former attorney general Bob Butterworth, a Democrat who held the post for 16 years, said Bondi’s earlier comments have some precedent.

“If the Legislature passes legislation, your first duty is to defend it,” Butterworth said. “I’ve handled cases over the years that I didn’t quite agree with, but that’s not my decision.”

Butterworth said he personally disagrees with the law and that judges should decide if a couple is fit for adoption. When the law was first challenged, Butterworth was the head of DCF.

He asked McCollum to defend the suit because he was focused on “turning around” an agency beset by repeated troubles and didn’t want to pick a fight with the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Aronberg, of Greenacres, said the attorney general has wide discretion on appealing cases and that “we have wasted enough taxpayer money” on defending the ban.

A department spokesman said Florida has spent $383,000 on defending the ban, half of which is for attorneys fees. The other half is for general expenses, including $120,000 to Rekers.

The attorney general candidates also split on whether to continue McCollum’s challenge to the new federal health care law.

Republicans have said they will keep Florida as the lead plaintiff in the case, which will likely stretch well beyond November’s election.

“I believe that law is unconstitutional on a number of grounds,” Benson said.

Calling the lawsuit “frivolous,” Democrats said they would take Florida off the list of 20 states listed as plaintiffs. McCollum spokeswoman Sandi Copes noted that even if Florida dropped out of the case, it would continue and another state would take the lead.

UNITED FRONT

One issue did unite all five candidates in opposition — the ballot initiative known as Hometown Democracy, or Amendment 4. An effort to reign in unchecked growth, the amendment would place changes to a local comprehensive plan on the ballot.

The initiative faces strong opposition from business groups and the building industry.

All of the candidates said it would take power away from local officials.

“It would ensure that the only changes to comprehensive plans would be development funded by expensive campaigns,” Aronberg said.

The candidates also are united in supporting the death penalty.

But other issues split the candidates along party lines. Democrats support the Fair Districts amendments that say lawmakers cannot draw political districts with the intent to favor or disfavor a party or incumbent. They also argue the Legislature’s companion amendment is “intentionally confusing” to voters.

Republicans oppose the citizen amendments — Nos. 5 and 6 on the ballot — but support lawmakers’ Amendment 7.

Most Republicans came out against the April 2007 move by Gov. Charlie Crist to simplify the process of restoring civil rights to former felons.

Study Finds Children of Lesbian Parents Are Socially and Academically Superior

Vanity Fair

by Juli Weiner

June 7, 2010

A 20-year study, the results of which were released today, has found that children raised by lesbian parents “have fewer social problems, and less aggressive and rule breaking behaviors than other teens,” according to an article on U.S. News and World Report’s health blog. And “even in homes where the lesbian parents had split up, the researchers found that those teens still fared better than teens from more traditional families.” (Maybe this is a 20-year viral-marketing campaign orchestrated by the crafty, polemicist producers of The Kids Are All Right.) Anyway, the author of the study points out that this should put a fork in claims made by anti-gay-marriage activists that same-sex parents make for unsteady upbringings.

Said anti-gay-marriage activists don’t quite see it that way. “This study was clearly designed to come out with one outcome—to attempt to sway people that children are not detrimentally affected in a homosexual household,” said the president of Concerned Women for America, she herself apparently appropriately concerned. Her objection, according to Yahoo, is that the study was financially supported by gay-rights groups, which she thinks may have swayed the results. The author of the study has in turn denied that this funding affected her findings.