- Posted byon April 16, 2013 at 5:26 PM EDT
Over the last four years, we have seen tremendous, historic change take place across the federal government, from signing into law federal protections for LGBT victims of hate crimes, to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” to implementing new policies and programs to address the health and safety of LGBT individuals. And at the same time, local communities across the country are taking action to address the inequalities and disparities faced by LGBT people.
I recently had the opportunity to travel to one of these communities to see this progress in person. Earlier this month, I visited Boyle Heights, California – a neighborhood in East Los Angeles – for an LGBTQ Forum hosted by the Latino Equality Alliance in collaboration with The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities initiative. The event brought together service providers, families, advocates, and individuals from the nearby communities for a resource fair, plenaries, and workshop sessions.
Some of the key issues that were raised throughout the day included family acceptance, access to affordable health care and housing, and increased opportunities for local service providers. In addition, many of the participants I met were particularly interested in President Obama’s call for commonsense immigration reform that will keep our families together and allow DREAMers a pathway to citizenship.
It was truly inspiring to see such a coalition of diverse local organizations unite in common purpose at the Boyle Heights LGBTQ Forum. Events such as these are a shining example of how communities across America can come together to seek solutions to the unique issues facing our youth and families.
- Posted byon April 8, 2013 at 7:37 PM EDT
In August 2009, President Obama honored Harvey Milk posthumously with America’s highest civilian medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with the following citation:
Harvey Bernard Milk dedicated his life to shattering boundaries and challenging assumptions. As one of the first openly gay elected officials in this country, he changed the landscape of opportunity for the nation's gay community. Throughout his life, he fought discrimination with visionary courage and conviction. Before his tragic death in 1978, he wisely noted, "Hope will never be silent," and called upon Americans to stay true to the guiding principles of equality and justice for all. Harvey Milk's voice will forever echo in the hearts of all those who carry forward his timeless message.
To honor Harvey Milk’s legacy, the White House will recognize a group of outstanding openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) state and local elected and appointed officials as “Harvey Milk Champions of Change.” Established in 2011, the White House Champions of Change Program regularly spotlights ordinary citizens who are doing extraordinary things for to their community, their country, and their fellow citizens. In that tradition, we will honor as Harvey Milk Champions of Change a small group of LGBT state and local elected and appointed officials who have demonstrated a strong commitment to both equality and public service.
If that sounds like you or someone you know, then we want to hear from you!
Members of the public are invited to nominate candidates for consideration. Nominees should be LGBT individuals who have been elected or appointed to state or local office, and who have demonstrated a strong commitment to public service. Please keep in mind that, in the spirit of the Champions of Change program, we are looking for unsung heroes – individuals whose contributions have gone unrecognized.
Click here to nominate a Harvey Milk Champion of Change before Friday, April 19, 2013 (Note: Under “Theme of Service” please choose “Harvey Milk Champions of Change”).
- Posted byon April 8, 2013 at 2:37 PM EDT
Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the FEMA Blog
When you're tackling a new and challenging topic, starting from a solid foundation is crucial to success. Right now, there is an opportunity to change how the federal government provides disaster assistance and we’re looking for tribal leaders to help set a solid foundation for those changes.
When President Obama signed into law the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013, he amended the Stafford Act to recognize the sovereignty of tribal governments, and this was a big step in the right direction to better meet the unique needs of Indian Country after disasters. However, there's still work to be done to shape disaster assistance programs and processes most effectively. That's where we are now -- we are consulting with tribal governments, tribal leaders, and tribal stakeholders to consider changes to a range of federal disaster assistance processes and topics:
- Input on the major disaster declaration process,
- Criteria to declare a major disaster,
- Program delivery, and
- The unique aspects of Indian culture that might not be currently considered by the rules.
I encourage our tribal partners to join us in developing rules through consultation. You’re invited to join a series of upcoming tribal consultation calls, provide ideas to FEMA’s online collaboration community, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now is a great time to make sure the unique needs of Indian Country are considered throughout the federal disaster assistance process.
Why are we looking for input from the community? Up to this point, FEMA has established rules around the disaster declaration process, assistance programs, and other aspects of federal assistance to meet the needs of state governments and individuals in those states. Now, with the recent amendment to the Stafford Act, we have an opportunity to change those rules with regards to the sovereignty of tribal nations.
In a little more than two months since the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act became law, the President has already signed two disaster declarations directly for Indian Country. The new changes have already resulted in federal disaster assistance going directly to tribal communities.
But there’s still much to be done. That's why we're having these consultation calls, gathering feedback online, and asking for e-mails. Once the consultation concludes, FEMA will draft proposed rules. Learn more about how to join this discussion by visiting FEMA’s online collaboration community, or send us an e-mail at email@example.com.
Craig Fugate is the Administrator of FEMA.
- Posted byon April 3, 2013 at 4:27 PM EDT
Earlier this week, thousands of families gathered for the 2012 White House Easter Egg Roll. Among them were LGBT families from across the country. Here’s what some of them had to say:
“What an incredible experience for our family to visit the home of the First Family and to take part in this great American tradition. It was so exciting to look around and see the diversity of American families represented. It’s a day that our kids will never forget.”
“It was amazing and awe-inspiring to be surrounded by so many amazing families of all colors and all types – all different – but united by the belief that all families deserve equality.”
"Being out, open, and proud on the lawn of the White House was a moment we will never forget.”
“The experience of attending The White House Easter Egg Roll was a once in a lifetime opportunity for our grandson. We will have lifelong conversations about America being open to all types of FAMILIES!”
“My partner and I were honored bring our sons to The White House to take part in an iconic American family tradition. It is a memory we will always treasure. President Obama is a true inspiration to our boys and they were so excited have been invited to his house for this event… Needless to say, the kids had an absolute blast! We loved seeing how much fun they had rolling eggs and playing games down the lawn. Thank you to the Obama Administration for welcoming all families.”
“Standing on The White House lawn to celebrate with the First Family and other families of all shapes and sizes from across the nation - two dads, two moms, a mom and a dad, one mom - helped prove the point that kids are kids, no different from each other in their quest for candy and a good time.”
“Said the girls, ‘Best. Day. Ever!’ Their happy dads agree.”
Check out a photo gallery of LGBT parents and their kids at the Egg Roll:
- Posted byon March 29, 2013 at 6:26 PM EDT
Javier H. Valdés is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts as an Immigration Reformer.
My family’s experience has long been one of immigration: from my grandfather immigrating to Argentina to my parents immigrating to the U.S., we have repeatedly set out to build a life in a new place. One thing that stands out as a common thread in all my ancestors’ stories is that, wherever they went, they survived and thrived by working with their community to build supportive structures and lay down roots for the next generation.
When I moved to Texas from South America in 1987, I remember learning about Cesar Chavez in school. As an adult I learned more about him on my own, reading about his work, philosophy, and history. I have always been moved and inspired by his deep commitment to the cause of justice and to the people he represented. I am honored to be recognized as a Cesar Chavez White House Champion of Change.
At Make the Road New York (MRNY), where I serve as Co-Executive Director, we work to transform lives and empower immigrant communities. We organize in some of the most economically marginalized communities in the United States, while providing direct services to keep families out of poverty. By helping immigrants to directly engage and advocate on the issues most critical to their lives, we have, together with our allies, shaped New York into one of the most immigrant-friendly states in the nation.
With language access posing a critical problem, beginning in 1999, we organized to win translation and interpretation in multiple levels of government and society so that immigrants can fully participate, stay healthy, and care for their children. We began with ensuring translation and interpretation at New York City public benefits offices, then went on to establish these rights at major public and private hospitals across New York State; in major chain pharmacies statewide; and in all City, State, and Suffolk County government agencies. These protections are fundamental and New York now stands as an example to other states.
We have also helped New York to become a leader in protecting the safety of immigrants and helping to keep immigrant families from being torn apart by deportations. The intentions of the Federal Secure Communities program are to make us all safer; by sharing information between government agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seeks to root out dangerous criminals. However, during this quest to make our country safer, the U.S. is actually failing to protect the human rights of many of the most vulnerable people living here. Secure Communities compels local governments to hold thousands of people suspected of being undocumented immigrants at local taxpayer expense and turn them over to ICE, where they are funneled into the black hole of immigration detention, often without access to adequate legal representation.
In practice, in New York City, we found that this made our communities feel less safe. Community members were afraid to approach police officers either to ask for help or report a crime for fear that any engagement with law enforcement could lead to detention. Victims of crimes were often swept up.
We decided that this was not the kind of city we wanted New York to be. We helped families affected by detentions to come forward about their experiences, and we showed lawmakers that our criminal justice system was not living up to the character of New York. Through the work of a citywide coalition of community, advocacy, and legal groups, MRNY and our allies have won new legislation to limit ICE's involvement in NYC corrections facilities and to prevent local law enforcement agencies from spending millions of city taxpayer dollars to hold individuals at ICE's behest. Thousands of unnecessary deportations will be avoided, saving local and federal tax dollars while keeping our communities strong and families stable. These laws demonstrate that the City of New York is willing to stand behind immigrant families and stand up for humane immigration policy that keeps families together locally, while we fight for just and humane reform nationally. We in New York hope that the federal government will exercise even greater discretion in determining who is targeted for deportation. New York has always been a sanctuary for immigrants and we believe it always should be.
However, without comprehensive immigration reform, our work at the City and State levels can only go so far. We need just national reform that values the contributions immigrants make to the character, prosperity, and humanity of the United States. Immigrants have made New York the wonderful city it is, both economically and culturally. And like New York, the United States has always been a place of opportunity, refuge, fairness, and compassion. What better way to honor the legacy of justice left by Cesar Chavez than to extend that opportunity and give immigrant families a meaningful path to citizenship so they can continue to contribute and make our country as strong as it can be.
Javier H. Valdés oversees the organizing and policy work at Make the Road New York in the areas of civic participation, civil rights, education, housing, environmental justice, LGBTQ, and immigration.
- Posted byon March 29, 2013 at 5:56 PM EDT
L. Mireya Reith is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as an Immigration Reformer.
Arkansas is home to a large and diverse community of immigrants, boasting the country’s fourth fastest-growing immigrant population. I am proud to call Arkansas my home. I grew up in Arkansas amidst the immigration boom in my state. As the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, I had a strong empathy and kinship with my new neighbors, and was deeply alarmed when I read those first editorials criticizing the growth of the immigrant community. I remember as a child confronting my own racist epithets in grade school and being aware that discriminatory groups, like the Klu Klux Klan, were still organizing around us. While my life experiences only made me more determined to demonstrate the value of diversity, I also knew that I would strive to prevent others from ever having to go through those same feelings of alienation.
I purposefully selected a career where I could champion for diversity and civic inclusion, and my early opportunities took me to five continents across the world, working in the field of democracy promotion. However, Arkansas remained my consistent home, and a family illness brought me back. What began as volunteering and trying to find ways to use my education and work experiences soon became a renewed life mission involving my neighbors, friends, and family, a mission that was spurred with urgency as I became aware of the grave injustices happening in my state and timely windows to resolve looming barriers both at the state and federal levels.
As I began to travel to all four corners of Arkansas, I learned that many immigrants still lacked the means to become full and active participants in the state’s economic, political, and social processes; a reality that negatively impacted all Arkansans. Instead, the swift demographic shifts, combined with a systematic lack of information, had relegated Arkansas immigrants into a second class. Among their stories was Lidia, who is an undocumented student and the eldest of her siblings. Because Arkansas does not have in place a tuition equity policy, her parents each work three jobs, seven days a week, to pay her university tuition. Unless laws in Arkansas change, her brothers and sisters may not get to go to college, and her parents will continue to confront unbearable choices between cancer treatment for the mother and Lidia’s education. Another story is Maria’s: she is a citizen who spent half of last year traveling ten hours to Louisiana’s detention center every weekend to fight to keep her family together and prevent the deportation of two of her brothers, who did not have the same opportunity as she did to legalize.
In 2010, I helped found Arkansas United Community Coalition (AUCC) to respond to these challenges, with a mission to empower Arkansas immigrants and their communities through organizing, coalition building, leadership development, and the promotion of civic engagement. My fellow incorporators and I were inspired by a vision of an Arkansas that could be elevated to its full social, economic, and civic potential through the development of inclusive and equitable communities where all multiethnic groups, newcomers, and native-born Arkansans could work together to enhance their collective quality of life. Committed to grassroots organizing and guided practice strategies, in our inaugural years, we have done many amazing things:
- We launched Change Agents, Arkansas’ first organizing program geared towards immigrants. This program identified and supported 23 individuals in unleashing their potential as community organizers. AUCC’s Change Agents have traveled to Washington, DC and Maryland to learn best practices from established immigrant organizations, met with elected officials at all levels of government, including the White House, completed community surveys to assess local immigrant needs, implemented series of local workshops where immigrants have safe spaces to garner information and voice their needs, and created active cadres of over 300 volunteers who are working on a daily basis to address immigrant concerns.
- We developed a network of organizations and volunteers committed to nonpartisan, immigrant voter registration and engagement. In 2010, this network contributed to the doubling of the Latino vote and, in 2012, it amassed 1,000 new voter registrations, made 22,000 calls, knocked 2,000 doors and hosted 2 Rock the Vote concerts, motivating the participation of almost 25,000 immigrant voters.
- We spearheaded a working group of 23 organizations – representing Latino, African-American, LGBTQ, women and faith communities – to advance prospects for the creation of a civil rights commission in the state. They have testified to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and have worked to improve relations between immigrants and local law enforcement.
- We fostered dialogue among Arkansas Latinos and public officials around the designation of a Latino majority-minority district during 2011 reapportionment processes.
- We supported local DREAMer organizations in seeking state and federal policy solutions for undocumented youth, including Arkansas’ first statewide summits, an in-state tuition equity bill campaign and an educational town hall with Arkansas’ flagship university that reached thousands locally and nationally.
- We developed community committees to host group citizenship workshops that resulted in over 400 new citizenship applications in one year.
- We joined four national coalitions (ya es hora! Ciudadañía, the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, Reform Immigration FOR America, and the Southeast Immigrant Rights Network) to facilitate Arkansas contributions to comprehensive immigration reform.
While Arkansas confronted twelve anti-immigrant measures in 2011 and still combats misconceptions about its immigrant population, Arkansas remains, as it once was, a land of opportunity. It is a proud commitment to our state that it has inspired this pro-active movement, of which I am humbly one person within, driven by the principles of acceptance and collaboration.
L.Mireya Reith is the Executive Director of Arkansas United Community Coalition (AUCC), Arkansas’ first nonprofit working at the state level to empower immigrants through organizing, coalition building, leadership development and the promotion of civic engagment.
- Posted byon March 29, 2013 at 5:32 PM EDT
Ian Danley is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts as an Immigration Reformer.
It is with sincere gratitude that I accept this Cesar Chavez Champions of Change Award. In Arizona especially, Cesar Chavez’s work and legacy give us great hope and encouragement as a sacred model for how we might work for justice in our world today. I am humbled and grateful to be recognized with this award.
It is always nice to be recognized for the work we do, work I find meaningful and central to my life. The truth is that so many have been working tirelessly for immigrant rights and for a fair and reasonable policy solution to our nation's broken immigration system. I am a part of a movement that is large, diverse, and beautiful. I am better for knowing these many servant leaders and am proud to work alongside them.
The first thing I ever did in the fight for immigration reform was in April 2004. I coaxed, prodded, and mobilized one hundred of my neighbors and fellow congregants to a leaders’ convocation that pushed local congressional leaders to support immigration reform and asked municipal leaders to avoid the use of local resources in efforts to enforce federal immigration law. I was excited to have so many people show up, and I was ready for my next organizing challenge. I have not stopped organizing since that action. I had no idea I would spend nearly ten years (God willing, this is our year) fighting for immigration reform. I had no idea Arizona was to become a bell-weather state for immigration issues. I have learned much since that Spring action in a Baptist sanctuary. I have much still left to learn.
The immigrant leaders I get to serve alongside – many of them are quite young – these are people I respect and love tremendously. Together we are building a justice movement in our city and country that I believe is a work of God; changing hearts, minds and, yes, systems in order to treat human beings as the divine inspirations of creation that they are. We hope and pray and work to ensure that our community will be known for its compassion towards everyone and that we will flee from any violation of humanity that destroys human potential and insults our Creator. We choose hope because there is no other option desirable and because the world is desperate for people full of hope.
Ian Danley serves on the advisory board at Promise Arizona.
- Posted byon March 29, 2013 at 5:07 PM EDT
Rich Stolz is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts as an Immigration Reformer.
I cut my teeth in the immigrant rights movement nearly twenty years ago when I volunteered to help register voters and organize students against California’s anti-immigrant Prop 187. The defining moment for me was a trip down to Fresno when I and other students met with farm workers and attorneys fighting for the rights of immigrant workers and responding to raids being conducted by INS that were terrorizing families and intimidating activists.
This all happened at a time in my life when I was exploring my own identity as a Korean America – half Asian/half white – and understanding more deeply the history of the movement for equal justice and identity in the United States. I was profoundly influenced by the strategic brilliance and courage of Cesar Chavez, the debates over pan-Asian movement building in California, the example of liberation theology in the Catholic Church in which I was educated, and the powerful non-violent movement for civil rights and equal justice for African American liberation.
Today, as the Executive Director of OneAmerica, I continue to draw on this history for inspiration. OneAmerica was born in the fight to contain the backlash against religious, ethnic, immigrant, and refugee communities following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I am proud and committed to our multi-ethnic organizational identity, and our focus on organizing immigrant and refugee communities across Washington State to build power in low-income communities of color to change the policies and institutions that impact the day to day lives of families and workers. I’m also proud of the amazing work we’ve done to make Washington State a more welcoming community, and to build the electoral strength of immigrant and refugee communities statewide.
Today, as we participate and lead in the campaign to enact just and humane immigration reform in Congress, I’m struck at how much the immigrant rights movement has grown in just the last decade. Our work in Washington State with the labor movement, the business community, the faith community, the civil rights community, and the vibrant community of immigrant groups, LGBT allies, women’s groups, and environmental groups reflect the growth of this movement nationwide.
Organizing is at the core of what we do. And the grassroots leaders of today – those being honored through the Champions of Change ceremony, and the countless volunteers, leaders and advocates on whom the honorees’ own work depends – are my continuing inspiration every day.
Rich Stolz is the Executive Director of OneAmerica